Monday, 5 November 2018

Some Thoughts on the New Series (Season) of Doctor Who

I have been a fan of Doctor Who for a long time. I have watched every episode known to still exist, and have watched reconstructions of those no longer available…including the BBC animations. Small tributes to Doctor Who show up in my game writing. Some are obvious. Others are buried under layers of personal and literary reference. I have watched all of Torchwood, all of Class, all of The Sarah Jane Adventures, K-9 and Company, and even the K-9 spin-off TV series. I have read a large number of Doctor Who novels, and have listened to many Big Finish audio adventures, although I am nowhere near as much of a completist in that regard.

All of the above is to indicate my default positon: I love the program, for all its warts and protuberances. That’s where I’m coming from.

Also, obviously, Spoilers Sweetie.

The Female Doctor

First off, let’s deal with the gender change.

I’m going to hope that this isn’t an issue for the Gentle Reader, but if it is, it should be noted that the possibility was first brought up during Tom Baker’s run as the Doctor. In The Hand of Fear, Eldrad uses Sarah Jane Smith to pattern his body, and then regenerates into his more typical male form. When the Doctor expresses surprise, Eldrad tells him that, as a Time Lord, the Doctor should have known that this is possible.

The first named Time Lord that we know switches gender is the Corsair, who is mentioned in The Doctor’s Wife. The Corsair seems unusual in that they changed gender regularly. While this might be going on in the background more that it appears to be, the few Time Lords whose regenerations we have followed do not seem to follow this pattern: Romana, Borusa, Rassilon, Morbius, and River Song have not changed gender within the program. The Master and the Doctor did so once, and the reaction of the John Simm version of the Master seems to imply that it was not a welcome change. Similarly, in Hell Bent, the General clearly finds the change in gender an annoyance, albeit a minor one.

Gender changes in Time Lords are therefore not common, but also not unheard of. Moreover, the variance of change may be unlikely (the Doctor did not change gender during his first cycle of regenerations, and it is implied that the Master did not either) to highly likely (the Corsair).

The Doctor changing gender is therefore very much supported by the program’s continuity, and may well be a subconscious reaction on the part of the Doctor to the events in Twice Upon a Time. That seems to be the implication to me.

The Doctor Herself

I think that Jodie Whittaker has a lot of potential as the Doctor, but I don’t think that she has hit her full stride yet. That’s okay – it isn’t unusual for a new Doctor to need a few stories before they discover themselves.

I like that she has quiet moments – watching Ryan trying to learn to ride a bike in The Woman Who Fell to Earth, and being in the background at Grace’s funeral in the same story, are welcome. Life is not all frantic running about. Some of the best bits in the original series were actually fairly quiet.

I like that they have kept the Doctor’s selfishness and ego, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of it as the character progresses. Unlike previous Doctors, the 13th seems to face some opposition to taking charge that she can’t just shout down. That isn’t necessarily a problem – there really are gender biases that the Doctor should be encountering – but she should be at least as capable as River Song or Romana in this regard. Or Yaz for that matter.  We see a little of that in The Woman Who Fell to Earth, and in The Ghost Monument, but the writing seems to be going more for “nurturing” than “strong”, and that is also a gender bias.

There are lots of nods to previous Doctors, going right back to the beginning of the classic series – four companions, humans kidnapped (albeit accidentally in this case), and the Hartnell-like appearance of the Capaldi outfit on Whittaker in The Woman Who Fell to Earth. Its rough appearance, having fallen from orbit, seems like a nod to Troughton to me. We’ve seen Venusian Akido from the Pertwee era, and the outfit seems rather Colin Baker-esque. The relationship to the companions seems to draw from Davison’s 5th Doctor, but without the exasperation and friction.

Jodie Whittaker is not a virtuoso of looking like she is running from explosions or laser fire. This looks a bit unbelievable in The Ghost Monument, for instance, where the robots would have to be worse shots than Imperial Stormtroopers to have missed her. It was also not convincing in The Tsuranga Conundrum. I can live with that, but I also think that the writers should take it into account. The Gentle Reader may feel differently, of course.

So far, the Doctor seems to be stepping back, perhaps to find herself, except when she needs to deliver a lesson or give a team inspirational meeting. That is not the fault of the actor. I hope that this will change as the series continues. More on this below.

Otherwise, I am very happy with the 13th Doctor. Jodie Whittaker is an accomplished actor, and, given opportunity, shines in the role.

The Companions

Graham, Yaz, and Ryan are all good. Let’s look at them individually, and then together as a group.

Doctor Who's Mandip Gill on Yaz's past & future | Den of Geek
Graham: I wasn’t sure that I would like Graham, given the way the actor was presented at the San Diego Comic Con panel, but I find that he is fantastic to have on the TARDIS. He is an older man, with a sense of humor, who is open to new experiences. He misses his wife, Grace, and this is very well played out in particular in Arachnids in the UK.

Yaz: Rookie police officer who knows that she could do more. And she could. Her family drives her crazy, but is well-intentioned and likeable. The idea that she wants to do more, but is being held back, would have been stronger had she not been a rookie. The implication is that she should have been allowed to just jump the “gaining experience on the job” part of being a police officer, and that sorting domestic disputes isn’t actually valuable. The dispute we first see her resolving is a real dispute, and people with the ability to resolve conflicts of this nature are important.

Ryan: Quiet young man, largely defined so far by his unwillingness to call Graham “Grandfather”, his own father’s unreliability, and his dyspraxia. Although this makes Ryan the first Doctor Who companion with a known disability, it isn’t a known disability, and while it has made some things difficult for him, it hasn’t really prevented him from doing anything other than riding a bike. In many ways, it is treated like Sarah Jane Smith’s fear of heights or enclosed spaces – something for someone else to encourage him through successfully every time.

Together: The group functions well together, and there are great moments of support and humor among them, but there is very little tension between them, or between them and the Doctor. And there are actually some obvious ways to bring this tension about:

Graham demands that the Doctor use the TARDIS to go back and save Grace. If Krasko could make minor alterations to try to prevent the Civil Rights Movement in Rosa, why can’t the Doctor do something similar, but for good? We viewers may know that it won’t work, but Graham shouldn’t be so accepting until he learns it the hard way.

When Yaz goes back, eventually, she is still just a rookie cop. If she doesn’t go back, she misses her family. She gave them up a little too easily at the ending of Arachnids in the UK; that should come back to haunt her. Her wanting to do more, but sometimes having to do the menial things, should also be a point of tension, because sometimes the small things are what we have to do. I could see the Doctor getting quite angry about this when Yaz tells her that she came aboard the TARDIS to do more. The growth arc for Yaz should include realizing how important her job was, even if she never returns to it.

Ryan is on a 67th Century medical ship, and not once does he ask whether or not they can cure his dyspraxia? Another obvious source of tension: Ryan blames himself after his dyspraxia prevents him from succeeding in something more important than riding a bike! What if someone dies as a result? What is someone is critically injured and might die? And when are we going to learn why he refuses to bond with Graham?

Those great moments of support between the characters would be more powerful if we first saw those characters divided by their own conflicts. The Tardis crew under Peter Davison or William Hartnell offer plenty of examples to draw from.

The Adversaries

The Woman Who Fell to Earth:  Tzim-Sha of the Stenza has an imposing first appearance, and a certain “ick” factor, but the Stenza themselves are not nearly as menacing as, say, the original Sontarans, the Cybermen, or the Daleks. They would need a lot of development to be a serious threat to the Doctor.

The DNA bombs, on the other hand, and the data-gathering coils, were excellent.

One benefit of Tzim-Sha was that it allowed the full sarcasm of the Doctor to shine through when she kept referring to him as “Tim Shaw”. OTOH, when she moralized about Karl kicking him off the crane? (1) There was nothing stopping Tzim-Shaw from grabbing Karl and teleporting away otherwise. (2) If Tzim-Shaw could teleport away (as he did), then Karl wasn’t actually necessarily harming him in any way.

That the Stenza keep their victim-trophies in stasis between life and death, and that this is the condition of a specific human girl in the plot of the episode, doesn’t even seem to register with the Doctor. I hope that we see some resolution to this in the future.

The Ghost Monument: We learn a little more about the Stenza in passing, suggesting that they may be the main baddies of this season.

The planet Desolation is said to have been made “cruel”, and the weapons developers on that world have tried to make it inimical to life. They really haven’t succeeded very well. In terms of a deadly environment, Desolation is put to shame by places the Doctor has encountered going back to Skaro…or even primitive Earth in An Unearthly Child. At least on Desolation, the problems nicely compartmentalize themselves, and are pretty easily defeated. Facing Remnants? Here is a handy pocket of gas to defeat them with!

Ilin is the guy who set up this version of The Amazing (Intergalactic) Race. Well acted, but compromises too quickly when the Doctor suggests a solution from The Hunger Games. The story would have been made far stronger had he refused to compromise. Nonetheless, he is a “villain” who is worthy of reprising his role.

The Desolation robots have the worst aim and tracking skills of any science fiction robots I have ever seen. Because they recover quickly from the Doctor’s EMP, her solution is only marginally better than Ryan’s.

The Remnants were a great idea, but I wish that they had been used to do more than provide exposition. This episode could really have used some “red shirts” to demonstrate how dangerous the threats really are. They seem to be location-specific, so unless Team TARDIS returns to Desolation, we are unlikely to see them again. The set-up for this monster, where it is seen on-screen several times before it is revealed to be an adversary, was effective.

Rosa: The main villain, Krasko, is pretty two-dimensional, and racist bus driver James Blake is like a character from the Mirror Universe version of The Andy Griffith Show. For actual menace, police officer Mason steals the show.

Arachnids in the UK: If the data coil from The Woman Who Fell to Earth is the best visual in the new series (and I think it is), the CGI spiders here come a close and creepy second. Sadly, there is no mention of Metebelis III (“I’ve met bigger”) and how the Doctor intended to kill them humanely isn’t explicated.

The queen spider dying at the end is a wasted opportunity. Imagine if the Doctor wanted to trap the spiders in the Panic Room so that she could materialize the TARDIS around them (in a holding cell of some sort) to transport to a world where they could survive. (Note: Not Metebelis III!) Then, when the queen is dying due to respiratory failure, she can realize that she cannot get the TARDIS there in time to save her. Robertson’s solution of shooting the spider becomes, in fact, the most humane thing she can do.

Robertson himself is smarter cartoon Trump.

The Tsuranga Conundrum: The P'Ting was kind of silly to look at, and, although people died as a result of its actions, it was cute enough that kids were happy it survived at the end, its tummy glowing from the energy of a bomb it absorbed. Because of that bomb, The Tsuranga itself was a kind of an adversary, and one with far more dramatic potential than we got to see on-screen.

Direction, Filming, and Sound

Visually, the new series is a real treat. Compared to the effects of, say, the Colin Baker years, we have come a long, long way in telling stories visually.

The sound is mostly good. Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor got to deal with the worst sound problems in the program’s long run, but there are bits of dialogue and exposition in The Tsuranga Conundrum that I found hard to make out.

The Writing

Here is where the new series really falls down, as far as I am concerned. Most of the stories fail to have the rising tension required to keep them from falling flat. The inter-companion dialogue is great, for what it is, but also lacks interpersonal tension.

The Woman Who Fell to Earth: As a regeneration story, this was pretty solid. The Doctor and companions had plenty to do. There was some actual light conflict between them. There were some excellent quiet moments. The Doctor uses what is at hand to solve the problems she faces – this was very, very welcome. Looking back at the series so far, this may be the best episode.

The Ghost Monument: The Doctor and companions have to seek out the TARDIS on a planet making lackluster attempts to kill them. They are in the company of fierce competitors who are actually only making lackluster attempts at competing with each other. One has a legendary ability to nap that is only used to introduce a monster.

This is easily the worst writing in the series to date. Sadly, it would have been very easy to fix:


  • First off, make it two episodes, because you should be fitting a lot in here.
  • Companions have just been kidnapped from Earth. There should be some conflict/tension as a result.
  • Competitors are either going to get rich or die. There should be some real tension as a result. We should never be allowed to forget how this ends.
  • Cigar-guy has more than one cigar. Almost kills them all in an acetylene field. This makes the resolution to the Remnants more believable.
  • Someone almost dips into the water before the Doctor realizes it would kill them.
  • Robots start as slow/poor shots, but get better over time. Never give up pursuit. The area requires more debris, things to hide behind, turns, etc., to make the characters’ survival believable.
  • Ilin refuses to accept that both contestants win. One must believe that the other will share the prize. This gives cigar guy an opportunity to grow. When Ilin disappears with the winner, leaving cigar guy and Team TARDIS, the Remnants and robots are closing in. The TARDIS appears the run, and only then does the Doctor remember that she has no key. After a panicked moment, she clicks her fingers and the TARDIS door opens.
  • The Doctor uses the TARDIS to trace back the teleporter, confronting Ilin and demanding that the other contestant keep her word. She does….if cigar guy will help her rescue her family from the Stenza-ruined world they are on.
  • The Doctor admits to Graham that she got the sunglasses from the charity shop where she got her clothes. “My pockets were empty when I fell into your life, remember? Where else could they have come from?”

Rosa: Mostly positive. I am glad that the Doctor didn’t turn out to be the cause of history. Although it may seem like a wasted opportunity that the Doctor wasn’t the white woman Rosa Parks was supposed to give up her seat to, I am glad that wasn’t the case. The villain was one-dimensional, and the least effective part of the story. Ryan making coffee is a good parallel to early Doctor Who stories where Polly did the same.

This would have been a better story if it had been done as a true historical. The TARDIS breaks down, and the Doctor must seek repairs. Team TARDIS’s actions set up the potential break with history. The Doctor is devastated when she realizes that they have to set history back on track by increasing local suffering. Is there another way?

Arachnids in the UK: Mostly positive, although why the hell Yaz isn’t worried about her family in the apartment complex is beyond me. She gives up her established life at the end far too easily. That needs to come back to bite her. The companions accepting that they would have to interact with these creepy, creepy, and altogether creepy things was far too easily come by.

I’ve already mentioned, earlier, how the answer was too pat. Were all of the spiders in the hotel when the panic room was filled? Or were some of them ranging afield? How was the Doctor going to deal with them humanely? There was some indication (sealing them into the hotel, for instance) that the spiders had a form of intelligence. Exploring that would have been cool.

The Tsuranga Conundrum: Mostly positive. I liked Yoss. Again, the Doctor uses what is at hand (yes!) to solve the problem, but it is surprising that magnetic containment fields as a means of holding the P’ting didn’t even come up. The story would have been helped had the Tsuranga had more patients, even if we didn’t get to know them, or even if they were just implied – see Smith and Jones, The Empty Child, New Earth, or The Invisible Enemy for examples.

Also, if you can stun the P’Ting, wrap it up, and then punt it down the corridor, can’t you simply repeat these actions all the way to the airlock?

Conclusions

Very much looking forward to more Jodie Whittaker.

Very much liking the companions filling out the TARDIS crew.

Love the nods to earlier Doctors.

The visuals have been awesome; make sure that the sound is clear.

Hoping for improvements in the writing, especially tensions in Team TARDIS itself. Remember that resolving these tensions is the heart of the best episodes in Doctor Who, and that they have existed in the program since An Unearthly Child.


Glad to see new worlds, new adversaries, and things that the Doctor doesn’t know. The universe is a big place!

Friday, 2 November 2018

Riot: Narita

On the flip side of all these cool heavy metal/hard rock album covers I've been turning into DCC and MCC content, there are the albums whose covers just don't rock. In fact, they kind of suck.

And those can be fun to work with, too.

What happens when you give a red sumo wrestler the head of a giant lemming, a big axe, and a taste for human prey?

Enter the atiran, a species of crimson humanoids looking for some folks to snack on. They are impossible to trip, throw, push, or knock backwards due to their sumo stances. Otherwise, like the album cover, they are not very impressive.

Atiran: Init +1; Atk battleaxe +1 melee (1d10+1) or bite +0 melee (1d4+1) or unarmed strike +1 melee (1d3+1); AC 9; HD 1d8+2; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SP sumo stance; SV Fort +4, Ref +0, Will +0; AL C.

What about that airplane in the background? A bit of overkill considering what it is facing. You can find statistics for air vehicles in The Umerican Survival Guide or Crawling Under a Broken Moon #7. We can build some usable statistics from the ultralight entry in the zine.

Fighter plane: Init +5; Atk machine guns +3 missile (1d12, up to five targets); AC 20; HD d14; Speed Level cruise 4/ max 8/; Height cruise 4/ max 8; Act 1d20; SV Fort +3, Ref +4, Will NA; Fuel Tank 1d20; Guzzle 1.
Basic Traits: Bomb Rack, Bombing Sights, Good Instruments.

Machine guns have ranges of 120/240/360, and each comes with a clip of 100 rounds. Automatic fire does 3d12 damage to a single target (Reflex DC 10 for half; uses 10 rounds).

Just because the cover isn't the best, it doesn't mean that the album isn't good. You can listen to it here.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Helloween: Better Than Raw

Charity Desire

The vampire-witch known as Charity Desire lives in a semi-ruined castle, from which she comes forth in bat form to find mortal lovers to consume. Although she is particularly active in the autumn, attractive men and women may attract her attentions year round.

The vampire-witch has a blatant sexuality that is difficult for mortals to resist. In general, a DC 15 Will save is needed to avoid feeling attracted (with modifiers up and down the dice chain depending upon the normal proclivities of the potential victim), but actually becoming her lover is a matter of choice. A mortal who has relations with Charity Desire rolls 1d7, modified by Personality and Luck:

(1 or less): The mortal is transformed into a pumpkin-imp, and caged for Charity’s later use or consumption; (2-3) Charity drains the victim of blood equal to 1d5 temporary Stamina damage, and the mortal must succeed in a DC 15 Will save or automatically return the next night; (4-5) Charity drains the victim of blood equal to 1d3 temporary Stamina damage; (6-8) Charity drains the victim of blood equal to 1 temporary Stamina damage, but the victim also gains 1 point of Luck which must be used before the Stamina damage is healed or it will disappear; (9-10) the mortal gains 1 point of Luck which must be used before the next moonrise or it will disappear; (11-12) Charity is pleased enough to offer 1d3 drops of her own blood to her lover, each of which heals 1d3 HD of damage or conditions if immediately consumed, and  her lover also gains 1d3 points of Luck which must be used before the next moonrise or it will disappear; (13+) Charity offers her lover immortality. Unfortunately, while this means immunity from aging, disease, and death from natural causes, the thrall who consumes enough of her blood to gain this boon must also succeed in a DC 20 Will save each time they wish to disobey or work against the vampire-witch, and will take 1d5 damage each round they are exposed to direct sunlight.

The vampire-witch is not herself damaged by sunlight, but she cannot regenerate or change form within it. Away from the sun, she regenerates 1d3 hp each round, and can transform herself into the form of a gigantic bat or a fearsome wolf.

As a witch, Charity Desire can issue a curse as an attack action. The victim receives a DC 16 Will save to resist the curse. See Appendix C in the core rulebook for suggestions.

If killed while even one of her pumpkin imps still lives, Charity’s soul flees to the pumpkin imps’s body, which runs away to restore its power to fight another day. The pumpkin imp slowly transforms into Charity Desire’s new body over the course of a year.

Charity Desire, Vampire-Witch: Init +2; Atk staff +3 melee (1d4+1) or bat’s bite +4 melee (1d6) or wolf’s bite +4 melee (1d6+2) or curse or spell; AC 15; HD 5d6; hp 11; MV 30’ or fly 40’ or 40’ as wolf; Act 1d20; SP alternate forms, attraction, take mortal lovers, regenerate 1d3/round, familiar imps, curse, spells (+8 spell check), loss of some powers in sunlight; SV Fort +5, Ref +5, Will +8; AL C.
            Spells (+8 spell check): Charm person, forget, demon summoning, paralysis, and second sight. As with all witches, Charity Desire can make magic items as if they had the appropriate spells (mix potion, sword magic, etc.).

Pumpkin Imps

Creations and familiars of Charity Desire, pumpkin imps stand no more than a foot high. A former lover who is transformed into a pumpkin imp is caged, becoming subservient to Charity Desire over the course of 1d3 months. Until it is completely subservient, a rescued pumpkin imp might be restored by the intervention of divine magic.

Pumpkin imp: Init +0; Atk by weapon +0 melee (1d3) or claw +1 melee (1); AC 14; HD 1d4; MV 20’; Act 1d20; SP infravision 30’, +5 bonus to climb and stealth checks; SV Fort +2, Ref +5, Will +3; AL C.

Listen to the full album here.


HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Monday, 29 October 2018

Helloween: Straight Out of Hell


In the final days of the Great Disaster, the weapons deployed by the Ancients were horrific beyond the understanding of those who survived their usage. So terrible were these weapons that in places reality itself was torn asunder. Passages to other universes, with strange physics and metaphysics, were opened. From some of these portals, even stranger things emerged. The jacks-o-war were among these beings, summoned forth straight out of a hell plane. Although the portal to that hellscape has long since sealed itself, the jacks-o-war remain. Worse, they are able to reproduce within the ruined world left by the Great Disaster.


Jacks-o-War

The jacks-o-war are green uniformed beings, humanoid in form, but almost skeletal. Their hard skin is like black metal, except for their rotting jack-o-lantern heads. They are armed with weapons of war – metal batons, grenades, and sometimes even firearms. They are capable of emitting a sickening orange radiance within a 20’ cone before their heads, with a 20’ base. All natural living creatures within the radius take 1d3 damage each round (DC 15 Fort save each round negates). Although they are not immune to critical hits, they are immune to the secondary effects of most of them. That is, they take increased damage, but even caving in their rotting pumpkin heads does not kill them, or seemingly inconvenience them in any way. Their metallic skin grants them a DC 10 Fort save to completely negate any severing of limbs, broken bones, or the like.

Jacks-o-war cannot heal or repair damage, but like the un-dead they are inexorable, requiring neither food nor rest. Shamans, sages, techno-wizards, and AIs knowledgeable about such things believe that the jacks-o-war consume the souls of those they kill. They will pause for 1d5 rounds over any fresh corpse; perhaps this is when and how they feed. In any event, a body that is successfully recovered once a jack-o-war has paused over it has a permanent reduction of 1d5 points of Personality, in addition to the normal effects of recovering a body.

Jacks-o-war reproduce by locating a pumpkin field, or a field of similar gourd-like plants. There they shine their sickly radiance upon the plants, and over the course of 1d6 hours 1d5 pumpkins transform into new jack-o-wars, per jack-o-war shining over their field. The rest of the plants wither and die.

The judge can adjust the difficulty of an encounter by the weaponry available to the jacks-o-war, as well as by their numbers.

Jack-o-war (DCC): Init +0; Atk metal baton +3 melee (1d6+1) or metallic claw +3 melee (1d4+1) or grenade +0 ranged (2d6/special) or assault rifle +0 ranged (1d10/special) or orange radiance (special); AC 18; HD 3d8; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SP infravision 60’, orange radiance, crit resistance, cannot heal, feed off souls, poison immunity, reproduction; SV Fort +5, Ref +2, Will +7; AL C.
            Grenade: 2d6 damage, -1d6 per 5’ away from point of impact.
            Assault Rifle: An assault rifle can target 3 creatures, or do 3d10 vs. one creature (Reflex DC 10 for half). Criticals do 6d10 damage. -1 to initiative, ranges 1 00/200/300, ammo capacity of 30 (a burst uses 10 shots), and a weight of 12 lbs. Without ammo, they are very expensive clubs (1d5 damage).

Rules for assault rifles and grenades (handheld bomb) taken from Crawl! #8.

Jack-o-war (MCC): Init +0; Atk metal baton +3 melee (1d6+1) or metallic claw +3 melee (1d4+1) or photon grenade +0 ranged (6d6) or lazer rifle +0 ranged (heat 6d6) or orange radiance (special); AC 18; HD 3d8; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SP infravision 60’, orange radiance, crit resistance, cannot heal, feed off souls, poison immunity, reproduction; SV Fort +5, Ref +2, Will +7.
            Photon Grenade: TL 4; CM 4; Range 30’ radius; Dam 6d6. Photon grenades are high-yield incendiary devices useful for both blowing things up, setting them on fire, or bringing down force screens via massive heat-based damage.
            Lazer Rifle: TL 4; CM 4; Range Line of sight; dam Heat 6d6; Power C-Cell (5), F-Cell (10), Q-Cell (U). Lazer rifles fire focused beams of coherent yellow-white light, causing heat-based damage. Lazer rifles consume double the power cell charges of lazer pistols, and hold up to two power cells.

Rules for lazer rifles and photon grenades taken from Mutant Crawl Classics.

Jack-o-war (Umerica): Init +0; Atk metal baton +3 melee (1d6+1) or metallic claw +3 melee (1d4+1) or percussion grenade +0 ranged (2d6/special) or assault rifle +0 ranged (1d10/special) or orange radiance (special); AC 12; Armor Die d7 (inherent); Fumble Die d4; HD 3d8; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SP infravision 60’, orange radiance, crit resistance, cannot heal, feed off souls, poison immunity, reproduction; SV Fort +5, Ref +2, Will +7; AL C.
            Grenade: 2d7 damage, blast radius 15’, Ref DC 20 for half damage, 10% chance of failure to explode.
            Assault Rifle: An assault rifle can target 3 creatures, or do 3d10 vs. one creature (Reflex DC 10 for half). Criticals do 6d10 damage. -1 to initiative, ranges 1 00/200/300, ammo capacity of 30 (a burst uses 10 shots), and a weight of 12 lbs. Without ammo, they are very expensive clubs (1d5 damage).

Rules for assault rifles and grenades taken from The Umerican Survival Guide.

Zekulon Orange

You will notice a number of gas masks on the album cover. Zekulon Orange is a thick poisonous gas which obscures vision as well as poisons targets. For every 10’ away a target is in a cloud of Zekulon Orange, attacks against it have a -1d shift on the dice chain. These clouds are mobile, drifting along at a rate of 10’ per minute, with a typical radius of 30’, reaching to a height of 20’.

Creatures caught within Zekulon Orange take 1d4 damage per round, and must succeed on a DC 15 Fort save or take an additional 1d3 points of temporary Strength damage. Worse, Zekulon Orange clings to skin and synthetic materials (including rubber and similar substances), staining in green and causing the effects of the poison to continue even outside the cloud for 1d5 minus Luck modifier rounds.

Battle Standard of the Jacks-o-War

This has no special powers, but if you want to ensure that you are the target of all the monsters’ aggression, playing “capture the flag” is a good way to go about it. If the battle standard is destroyed by any means, all jacks-o-war within sight must make an immediate Morale check. If they succeed, however, they need make no further Morale checks no matter what happens. They will try to kill you until either you die, or they do.

Give it a listen here.

(And, yes, I am doing these because of the time of year.)


The Time of the Oath


There is a being known as the Wizard of the Red Robe, whose face is forever hidden by his hood. This being is also called the Keeper of the Seven Keys because, having followed the signs beyond the Twilight of the Gods and the creation of new synthetic gods in his home reality, he was able to wrest the Keys from Insania’s dead hand.

After his setback in the World of the Maze That Lies Hidden in Shadow, whether or not the Wizard of the Red Robe was able to recover the lost Key of Heaven and the Mind, the Wizard was able to recover the golden Ring of the Silicon Minds, connecting his thoughts once more to the Future World.

To make the best use of this material, see also this blog post and this blog post.







The Ring of the Silicon Minds

This band of plain gold allows the wearer to connect with the Silicon Minds of the Future World, artificial gods created by the magio-technicians of that plane. Wearing it commands a form of patron bond, allowing the wearer to invoke the Silicon Minds (as invoke patron). A minimum of 1 point of spellburn must be used when invoking the Silicon Minds, and the spellburn effects table below should be consulted every time spellburn is used, so long as the ring is worn. It takes a full week to bond with the ring, and gain the power to invoke the Silicon Minds.

Each time the Silicon Minds are invoked, the image of a gold ring appears somewhere on the caster’s features. A caster may only bear one such image per level, as each represents painful connection to the rather overwhelming thoughts of the Silicon Minds. Each image therefore also causes 1d3 temporary Personality damage, which remains so long as the image remains, and then is healed instantly. One image of a ring from a previous day’s invocation disappears each day at dawn. It is always the most stable connection (as signified by the highest temporary Personality damage) that dissolves first.

Certain sages in the Fields We Know claim that the Ring of the Silicon Minds was once found upon our own Earth, and that connection to the Silicon Minds of the Future World forged the basis for the prophecies of Nostradamus.

Invoke the Silicon Minds

Spell Check        Result
1                          Failure and patron taint (see below). The Ring of the Silicon Minds ceases to function until dawn.
2-11                     Failure. The Ring of the Silicon Minds ceases to function until dawn.
12-13                   A circle of fire: The Silicon Minds create a circle of green flames around the caster, which grant a +4 bonus to AC and saving throws. This effect lasts CL rounds.
14-17                   We will find it once more again: The Silicon Minds restore one spell that the caster has lost. If the caster has not lost a spell, the Silicon Minds instead grant a single casting of a random spell the caster doesn’t know, at the highest level of spells the ring’s wearer is able to cast.
18-19                   Child of the stars: The Silicon Minds grant the caster insight into magic and technology. The caster gains 1d3+CL Insight Points. Each Insight Point may be used, once, to modify either a spell check or an artifact check (MCC), and each point used grants a +1d5 bonus to the die roll. Each point can be used only once, and unused Insight Points fade away at the rate of 1 point every day. Until all the Insight Points are used, the caster’s eyes become star fields mirroring distant galaxies.
20-23                   Last of the seven troopers: The Silicon Minds download the memories of a dying Trooper into the caster’s mind. The caster gains vague memories of the 7th War in the Future World. The caster gains 1d12 temporary hit points per Caster Level. Damage is taken from these temporary hit points first, and this damage cannot be healed. Until all temporary hit points are used, the caster gains a bonus to Initiative equal to half his level, and gains the Deed Die of a warrior of half his level (round up in both cases). When the temporary hit points are used up, these benefits disappear, but the caster will always be haunted by flashes of the trooper’s memories, which haunt his dreams.
24-27                   The blaster of the gods: The caster gains the ability to shoot forth a laser-like ray, which does 3d6+CL damage on any successful hit. This power uses an Action Die each time  it is used, but the caster is able to draw upon it for 1 turn per Caster Level.
28-29                   I have seen it all before: Foreknowledge is granted to the caster, coming from the Future World through the aegis of the Silicon Minds. This effect lasts for 1d7+CL rounds. During this time, the caster can evade attacks, receiving only 1 point of damage from any successful attack. Further, any time the caster is called upon to make a roll during this period, he rolls two dice (or two sets of dice, for instance, if rolling 3d6 damage) and selects which outcome occurs.
30-31                   Wake up the mountain: Power from the Silicon Minds floods the caster, healing all damage that does not relate directly to the ring or the Silicon Minds themselves. This includes any natural disease or poison that the caster is suffering from. The caster gains a +10 bonus to any Strength-based checks (including attack rolls and damage rolls with melee weapons), and ignores the first 10 points of damage from any attack. These effects last for 1 turn per Caster Level.
32+                      Son of a distant future: For a moment, the caster sees into the Future World and achieves perfect communion with the Silicon Minds. He gains two of the boons, above, of his choice, and they last until the next day or their normal duration (whichever is longer). At the end of this period, the caster takes 1d6 points of temporary Stamina and Personality damage from the strain on his mind and body. Alternatively, the caster may choose only a single boon (which also lasts one day if its normal duration is shorter) without suffering from the strain thereafter.

Spellburn: The Silicon Minds

While wearing the ring, and thereby bonded to the Silicon Minds, any attempt at spellcasting can be influenced from the artificial gods of the distant Future World. When a caster wearing the Ring of the Silicon Minds utilizes spellburn, roll 1d4 and consult the table below, or use these suggestions to create an event specific to your campaign.

Roll        Spellburn Result
1             Electrical feedback from the Silicon Minds arcs through the caster’s body, resulting in temporary Strength, Agility, or Stamina loss.
2             The character’s mind becomes enmeshed with that of a blissful citizen of the Future World. This manifests as Strength, Agility, or Stamina loss, but the actual cause is the distraction of pleasurable events occurring in another time and place, of which the caster is keenly aware. As the spellburn heals, this awareness fades.
3             Perfect connection! The caster gains a +3 bonus to his spell check without cost, and is free to spellburn further to augment his casting (do not reroll on this table; no further free bonuses are available).
4             Temporal displacement. The caster is moved out of sync with his current timeline, making him less able to affect the world around him. Spellburn must be taken from Strength, but the caster gains a +1 bonus to AC per two full points of spellburn, which also represent his being slightly out of phase with the world around him. As the spellburn heals, the caster moves into sync with his time track. AC bonuses are reduced as spellburn recovers.

Patron Taint: The Silicon Minds

When patron taint is indicated, roll 1d6 and consult the following chart. Because some results can occur an infinite number of times, patron taint must always be rolled.

Roll        Patron Taint Result
1             You have drawn the attention of the Corruptor, who sends creatures to destroy or corrupt you. Roll 1d7 to determine what is sent: (1-4) 1d3+CL shadow-goblins, (5-6) 1d3-1 creepingnightmares, or (7) 1d6 dogs of war per caster level. There is no limit to how often this patron taint can be rolled.
2             You have drawn the malice of the Corruptor, who reduces your Luck by 1d14 points (to a minimum of 3). This loss is recovered at a rate of 1 point per day, as the Corruptor’s attention is drawn elsewhere. There is no limit to how often this patron taint can be rolled.
3             Another world calls. You and your companions are pulled immediately into another world, as determined by the judge. There are many DCC products the judge may use to flesh out this world, and any DCC or MCC adventure can be modified to occur on another plane. Materials that might be of use include (but are not limited to!) The 998th Conclave of Wizards; Againstthe Atomic Overlord; Beyond the BlackGate; Black Powder, Black Magic; Black Sun Deathcrawl; Crawling Under A Broken Moon (Umerica); Crawljammer; Crawl-thulhu; Cyber SprawlClassics; Dark Trails; various modules in the DCC Xcrawl series; Demonland; The Dread God Al-Khazadar; Drongo: Ruins of the Witch Kingdoms; Fate's Fell Hand; The Hobonomicon; Hubris: AWorld of Visceral Adventure; Journeyto the Center of Aereth; Nowhere CityNights; Null Singularity; Peril on the Purple Planet (and related); Phantasmagoria; Primal Tales; Rock GodDeath-Fugue; RPGPundit Presents Last Sun materials; Secret Antiquities; Secrets of the World-Harvesters; Star Crawl; Tales From the Fallen Empire; Through Ningauble's Cave (and various DCC Lankhmar materials); Through the Dragonwall; The Tower of Faces; Transylvanian Adventures; Trench CrawlClassics, Pandemonium, and the Sunless Sea in The Gong Farmer’s Almanac (among others); and Trumphammer 2K. Various Sanctum Secorum Episode Companions also offer a plethora of materials. This transfer may be temporary or permanent, as the judge desires, and may be rolled any number of times.
4             Artificial thoughts. Your contact with the Silicon Minds has made you more intelligent and rational, at the cost of some individuality. Each time this is rolled (to a maximum of 3 times), gain +1 to Intelligence (maximum 20) and lower Personality by 1 (minimum 3).
5             Replacement parts. If you have lost a body part, you gain a cybernetically controlled prosthesis, which is permanently grafted to your body. If you have multiple lost body parts, determine which is replaced randomly. Treat this as a natural body part in all respects, except as follows. Damage to that part specifically must be repaired rather than healed. This normally requires at least 10 minutes per check, with a DC 10 Intelligence check repairing up to 1d4 hit points or 1 point of temporary ability damage. Each point healed (either way) requires 10 gp worth of materials. If the body part to be healed precludes your working on it (for instance, a hand or an arm), you may have to get another to perform the check or attempt it with a reduced die. The judge makes the final determination. Finally, the replaced part is immune to damage from disease or poison, and may take reduced damage from heat or cold at the judge’s discretion. You can roll this taint any number of times, but it only has an effect if you are missing one or more body parts.
6             Future mind. Images of the future have taken hold in your mind, reducing your effectiveness in combat. Each time this is rolled, you must make attack rolls at -1d step on the dice chain. This is a permanent reduction, and also affects any spell check you might make for a spell which is used only to directly causes harm (such as magic missile or flaming hands). The judge is the ultimate arbiter as to which spells are affected. This taint can be rolled a maximum of 3 times; ignore additional instances.

Removing the Ring of the Silicon Minds breaks the bond, but does not undo current spellburn effects or patron taint!

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Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Helloween Night


Keeper of the Seven Keys (Part II)

There is a being known as the Wizard of the Red Robe, whose face is forever hidden by his hood. This being is also called the Keeper of the Seven Keys because, having followed the signs beyond the Twilight of the Gods and the creation of new synthetic gods in his home reality, he was able to wrest the Keys from Insania’s dead hand.

But time marches on, even for the Wizard of the Red Robe, and not all of his endeavors have been successes. It was on the World of the Maze That Lies Hidden in Shadow, where the Wizard of the Red Robe sought to unlock the Sea of Kai-Weikath that the Wizard lost, for a time, one of the Seven Keys. It was stolen by a shadow-goblin, who fled into the Maze That Lies Hidden in Shadow. This was in a World thought closed to the shadow-goblins; how the creature arrived there, and how it intends to return to the Halloween World, remain unknown. Some legends tell of an oaken-leafed portal hidden within that World which would allow such passage. Perhaps that is what the shadow-goblin used, and intends to use yet again?

Defeated, but not slain, the Wizard of the Red Robe used the planar step spell to move back to a previous world, one where time ran much faster than that on the World of the Maze That Lies Hidden in Shadow. There the Wizard sought to recruit a company willing to venture into that Maze and recover the lost Key.

What happened next? You will have to tell me, when these events play out at your table. Perhaps the shadow-goblin escapes with the Key, and the Corruptor is finally released. Perhaps it will be as the now-blind seer of visions prophesied, and your PCs will restore the Key to the Wizard, that it may be hidden from the demons of the Halloween World. Or perhaps many worlds will instead become thrall to the throne of the evil Corruptor.

To make the best use of this material, see also this blog post.

If you use this material in your game, I would really love to hear how it goes.

The Maze That Lies Hidden in Shadow

A vast cloud lies over the Maze That Lies Hidden in Shadow, so that down within its twisting walls there is very little light. The Maze itself is a combination of natural canyons carved by super-heated magma, the work of humanoid slaves, and the divine will of Thurkiske, the god of thunder who rules the land beneath the cloud’s dark shadow.

The dogs of war

These creatures are humanoids beholden to Thuriske, who roam the Mazelands, searching for battle and sacrifices to bloody his altars. These creatures usually travel in packs of 3d5, wolf-headed humanoids with burning red eyes, armed with spear and wearing chainmail. These may be considered the least dangerous creatures intruders in the Maze may encounters.

Dogs of war: Init +0; Atk spear +0 melee (1d8) or bite +0 melee (1d3); AC 15; HD 1d6; MV 25’; Act 1d20; SP infravision 60’; SV Fort +2, Ref +1, Will +0; AL C.

The creeping nightmares

These beings are man-like in form, but they creep on all fours like great pale lizards.  They are capable of clinging onto any surface, even ceilings, without difficulty. They attack by lashing with grey tongues, which are able to stretch out to 30’ away. The saliva coating these members causes hallucinations and waking nightmares, reducing the effectiveness of creatures exposed. Each exposure requires a DC 15 Will save, or the target takes a -1d penalty on the dice chain to all rolls for the next 1d6 x 10 minutes (treat as a poison). A target who fails three saves becomes catatonic for 1d5 hours while the narcotic saliva causes terrifying nightmares.

Once victims are subdued, the creeping nightmares can feed. The touch of their pallid fingers causes 1d3 temporary Intelligence and Personality damage. If either is reduced to 0, the victim is slain. Surviving victims must succeed in two DC 10 Fort saves, one for each Intelligence and Personality, or 1 point of damage is permanent in the appropriate ability score.

Creeping nightmare: Init +2; Atk tongue +2 ranged (special) or touch +0 melee (special); AC 12; HD 3d6; MV 30’ or climb 30’; Act 1d20; SP infravision 60’, hallucinatory saliva, Intelligence and Personality drain; SV Fort +3, Ref +3, Will +2; AL C.

The Evil's course

Running through the Maze That Lies Hidden in Shadow is the black river called Evil. Coming within sight of the Evil requires a DC 5 Will save. This save rises to DC 10 if the water is touched, DC 15 if one is submerged (or mostly submerged) in the black water, and DC 25 if any of the water is consumed. Failure means that the victim is thoroughly subsumed by hate, and must attack the nearest creature to the best of the victim’s ability for a number of rounds equal to the amount by which the save was failed, +1d6 rounds.

Each time one of these circumstances recurs, the save must be made again. Thus, if the PCs leave the Evil behind, but come within sight of it again, new saves must be rolled. Creatures native to the Maze appear to be immune to this effect; in reality, they have already succumbed to hatred.

The Man in Black

The purported Master of the Maze and High Priest of Thuriske, the Man in Black wears a black hooded cloak over Victorian evening-wear – black coat and slacks, white cuffs, shirt, and handkerchief. No one can describe the Man’s face. If you are not looking at him directly, what he himself looks like is impossible to remember.

The Man in Black seeks to bring despair to those he encounters, driving them mad, bringing them to drink, overconfidence, and ruin. He can offer many things (depending upon the imagination of the judge), but none of them are truly what they seem to be. Most commonly, he offers a black liquor that can grant a temporary 1d3 bonus to any particular stat, or a one-time +1d5 bonus to any given check. This drink is addictive, and after 1d12 hours, unless another dose is taken, not only does the bonus no longer apply, but the character must succeed in a DC 20 Fort save or take an equal penalty until another dose is consumed. In the case of a skill increase, the penalty applies to all skill checks – including spell checks, if that is how the liquor was used.

After a character has failed three saves, the liquor never gives bonuses again; it is needed simply to offset penalties. At this point, the Man in Black begins to demand evil deeds performed in exchange for his wares. If reduced to 0 hp, restrained, or if he takes a critical hit whose result would be lethal, the Man in Black simply fades away. He is impossible to kill.

Once a PC has become a thrall to the black liquor, the Man in Black can show up anywhere that PC is, including other worlds or planes of existence. The Man in Black avoids public locations, however. Breaking the addiction of the black liquor requires some form of divine quest.

The Man in Black’s touch attacks are a seemingly effortless martial arts. Likewise, his high AC reflects an ability to simply and easily step out of the way of an attack.

On a successful touch attack, roll 1d5 to determine the effect: (1) target is paralyzed 1d3 rounds unless a DC 10 Will save succeeds; (2) target is disarmed unless a DC 10 Fort save succeeds; (3) target is knocked prone unless a DC 10 Reflex save succeeds; (4) target takes 1d5 damage plus roll 1d3 on this chart to determine secondary effect; or (5) target takes 2d5 damage plus roll 1d3 on this chart to determine secondary effect, save DC is increased to 15.

The Man in Black: Init +5; Atk touch attack +5 melee (special); AC 18; HD 3d12; hp 24; MV 30’; Act 2d20; SP infravision 60’, martial arts, addictive liquor, make bargains, immune to mind-affecting; SV Fort +6, Ref +6, Will +6; AL C.

Will 'o' the wisps

These corpse-candles appear as red, green, yellow, or blue lights. They seem to misguide the paths of those who wander in the Mazelands. Each has the power to entice victims into following it; a DC 15 Will save (+1 for each additional will ‘o’ the wisp beyond the first) is required to resist following the corpse lights for 1d3 turns. Their destination is (roll 1d7): (1-2) a group of dogs of war, (3) a creeping nightmare, (4-6) the river Evil, or (7) the Man in Black. When leading others, they do not move faster than is needed to keep ahead.

Will ‘o’ the wisps can defend themselves with energy discharges, up to a range of 30’. They can become invisible or visible at will by using an Action Die. Finally, a will ‘o’ the wisp can exude despair once per day, to a range of 60’. Any creature caught in this radius must succeed in a DC 20 Will save or become overwhelmed with despondency, taking no actions for 1d3 turns unless directly attacked.

Will ‘o’ the wisp: Init +0; Atk energy discharge +3 ranged (1d5+3); AC 15; HD 1d3; MV 60’; Act 1d20; SP infravision 60’, detect the living 250’, entrance, invisibility, exude despair; SV Fort +0, Ref +8, Will +3; AL C.

Spirits of the Kai-Weikath

The Key that the Wizard of the Red Robes lost in this world is said to be the Key to Heaven or the Key to the Mind, which is perhaps the same Key. When it touched the Sea of Kai-Weikath, it released the watery spirits of the dead which were locked therein. These were the ghosts of sailors drowned in that Sea, whose spirits were thereafter corrupted where the river Evil pours into the Kai-Weikath.

The spirits have no power to harm on their own, but their wailing and (powerless) uttered prophesies may unnerve characters that encounter them. The ghosts of the Kai-Weikath can be compelled to answer questions using a consult spirit spell.

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