Michael Jordan as the MVP of Unknown Armies

Githyanki Diaspora has an interesting interview with Jim DelRosso about Unknown Armies, in which Jim mentions that he substituted Michael Jordan for Alex Abel as the person behind the New Inquisition:

Basically, Alex Abel is set up in the text to be a popular figure in the mainstream consciousness; the “reveal” that he’s running TNI is supposed to be a surprise. But it doesn’t work in a game because he doesn’t exist outside of UA’s fiction: he exists only to run TNI. Getting players to be surprised by that fact is like getting them to be surprised that billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne is actually Batman. You’d either have to try to subtly introduce him to the narrative over time, or just ask them to pretend to be amazed. Neither seems fun.

 

So I went looking for a different Alex Abel.

Scroll down about halfway to the section on how Jordan became the man who decided “to just beat on the pinata of the occult until answers fall out,” which includes a timeline of Jordan’s meteoric success and sometimes curious career changes over the 1990s and 2000s, and how they make sense within the context of Alex Abel’s aborted ascension to the Invisible Clergy and his burning need to discover what he unknowingly lost that day. It really is spectacular, and just the kind of backfilled secret history that makes Unknown Armies the role-playing game of Tim Powers novels.

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Ham-Fisted Bun Vendors of the Occult

Carl Kolchak fends off a vampire with two crossed pieces of metal.

Kolchak does the best with what he has.

Carl Kolchak’s solutions were so haphazard. Manufactured, non-canonical examples include:

  • A mallet he cadged from the janitor and a splintered chair leg to fight a vampire.
  • Herbs that a book he bought at the five and dime claimed would protect from witchcraft.
  • Tinfoil folded in proportions cited in sacred architecture as defending against psychic intrusion.

In short, there must have been any number of times that Kolchak’s spit and baling wire efforts didn’t pan out. But the man in the seersucker suit lived to report another day, so there must have been some resolution to the supernatural threats that didn’t include a hibernation or migratory component.

Reminds me of the set-up for Eternal Lies, the Trail of Cthulhu campaign where the player characters are drawn into the consequences of a ritual that another group of investigators failed to prevent some years prior.


N.B. I would be remiss in not acknowledging “ham-fisted bun vendor” as first being uttered by Jon Pertwee in the Doctor Who serial “Terror of the Autons.” So possibly Robert Holmes’ creation, Terrence Dicks’, or Pertwee’s own.

 

Plot Seed Medley

Writing plot seeds is tricky. It’s easy to let yourself become repetitive. I find myself writing and rewriting them to stand out as unique. That’s why I so easily stalled on Plot-Seed-a-palooza. I do mean to get back to that someday.

In the meantime, enjoy revisiting some previously published plot seeds.

  1. Beastmen of the North Country lurk in the dark, silent woods.
  2. The Ghost Writer finds herself compelled to fulfill the authorial aspirations of the long-departed.
  3. Lincoln’s Blood proves a turning point for secret histories and wars.
  4. The Roxbury House is a spooky old house inspired by pictures taken by a friend of mine.
  5. Slayers and ‘Busters brings together two monster-hunting franchises to amuse the spectator in the incongruities and similarities.
  6. Something in Lake Champlain Uses Bio-Sonar is a highly suggestive thought about the sort of marine life lurking at the edges of human activity.
  7. Starless takes the contracting universe seen at the end of season five of Doctor Who and adds archaeologists of true history to the mix.
  8. This Man draws on an urban legend to create an ally or antagonist based in the dream world.
  9. Turn Me On, Dead Man presents an alternate history in which the star-crossed fates of two Beatles puts the world in jeopardy.
  10. The Voynich Manuscript is one of those archetypal plot seeds that everyone takes a stab at.

Demonground

Sometimes paying attention to the Hotness column over at RPG Geek pays off. That’s where I was reminded of Demonground, a horror and weirdness role-playing zine that published fifteen issues between 1998 and 2002. The keeper of the files seems to have redesigned the site a bit, but the issues themselves are the same as they ever were.

Demonground‘s a handy resource for GMs looking for a bit of inspiration, like monsters, artifacts of interest and all that. And it covers many of the horror games of note at the time, including Dark Conspiracy, Call of Cthulhu and my personal favorite WitchCraft, in addition to non-setting specific material. Now admittedly, this can be a mixed blessing. I’m of the variety where I zero in on what’s specific to my preferred properties, ignoring the rest. Fortunately, the later issues of Demonground are conveniently labeled so as to help such picky consumers find the content relevant to their pursuits. For the rest of you, gorge away.

And since Demonground‘s material is timeless, you can merrily mine away regardless of the fact there hasn’t been a new issue since 2002. And if that’s a concern, go check out Protodimension.

Beware the Krampus

A pretty impressive Krampus mask.

Insertname brought it up on RPG.net: using the Krampus as an antagonist in one’s role-playing games. Coming out of eastern Europe, particular Austria and Hungary, Krampus accompanies St. Nicholas on his journeys, warning children to behave and punishing those who don’t. So he’s the bad cop to St. Nicholas’ good. It’s the classic buddy situation.

Krampus Comes to Town

1901-1910 saw a wave of over two million immigrants to the United States from Austria and Hungary. With so many believers living beyond the old country, St. Nicholas and Krampus expanded their travels to include the land of opportunity. When reports of a shadowy demon-like figure stalking St. Nicholas circulate among the “they know just enough to be dangerous” portion of the occult set, they undertaking the capture and banishment of the fiend lately come to America.

Doing so throws the balance of Christmas dangerously askew, of course. Without the threat of the Krampus’ punishment to keep them in line, children run amok in New York City. St. Nicholas correspondingly declines to travel the land. It’s a huge mess, one that can only be resolved by freeing the Krampus from his Leyden jar prison — and convincing him not to take it out on the well-meaning, if foolish occult investigators.

The League of Extraordinary Companions of St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas, it transpires, has a whole entourage of companions, scattered all across Europe. Typically they work alone or with Nick himself, rarely collaborating together. Every once in a while, though, there’s that one child so recalcitrant, so truculent, so incorrigible who requires the attention of an entire pantheon of corrective spirits, with Knecht Ruprecht corralling their efforts. They’ll put that child through metaphorical Hell before the night is over. It’s the preventative maintenance version of A Christmas Carol.

Dark Ascension

In the world of Unknown Armies, some clued-in goon has decided to scoot into the Invisible Clergy as the Dark Companion, the shadowy figure of questionable means and motives that follows so many more visible characters. Come Christmas-time, that means he’s emulating the behavior and signs of the Krampus, including terrifying the local children. This is not going down well in the community, never mind the occult underground. Representatives from the different factions present on the scene come together to put down this would-be Krampus before someone other than him gets hurt.

Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition Preview Reaction

Last week, Green Ronin published a series of art previews for the forthcoming edition of Mutants & Masterminds, starting with a new team of signature characters called the Sentinels, then going on to the stages of developing the cover piece. The Sentinel team roster includes thumbnail descriptions of its ten members.

At first, I was deeply underwhelmed by the character portraits of the Sentinels. My first thoughts were along the lines of “These all sound very painfully like standard issue player characters. They all fit that archetype of awkwardly ‘cool’ name and ‘best powers.’ They aren’t a patch on the Freedom League, which is a much more classical superhero team.” And by “classical,” I of course mean fond homage.

I bit my tongue, though, and thought about it for a bit before writing anything down. After a while, I realized why the Sentinels smelled so strongly of player characters: that’s who they stand in for. The line developer for Mutants & Masterminds, Jon Leithusser, wrote in his post:

But one of the other considerations that loomed large in the creation of the Sentinels is that we wanted them to be disposable. Yep, you heard me, disposable. If you don’t want the Sentinels in your universe, you can remove them and replace them with your own heroes. Our goal was to make it easy for you and your players to jump into playing, but we also wanted to make sure you had an even better chance to make your PCs the central heroes of your series, without other heroes around to take all the glory . . .

The Sentinels are PL10, which is the standard starting point for player characters in a typical four-color campaign. You can play them as written, use some or all or replace them outright. That works pretty well.

Granted, you could do the same thing with the Freedom League, ousting them or any number of Freedom City’s super-teams to make room for the players’ group. Even though the League’s average power level hovers around 12 or 13, PL10 player characters tend to have the advantage on tougher non-player characters because it’s multiple cooperating minds against the GM’s segmented ingenuity.

I’m curious to find out if the Sentinels replace the character archetypes in the front of the corebook completely or appear only in art and system examples, in addition to their role as stand-ins in Emerald City. Those archetypes tend to be straightforward in their mechanical construction, unlike the byzantine contortions some people feel it’s necessary to put the rules through to achieve a character of their liking.

So yeah, now I think I get where they’re coming from with the Sentinels. I’m still not a fan, but I am interested by the mention of Emerald City as a place where the super-villain set has had time to put down roots. I had mentally checked out of the third edition because hey, I’m perfectly happy with the second, but I’ll certainly keep an eye on Emerald City. At the very least it could be a good source for tone and flavor with which to repaint Freedom City. Call it my East Coast bias, but I like this end of the country for my role-playing exploits.

Faces in the Crowd Vol. 1

Christian did me the kindness of sending a copy of his print zine Faces in the Crowd. It’s a collection of non-player characters he created for his new World of Darkness game, which has since metamorphosed into Changeling: The Lost, a transformation which pleases me greatly.

Aside from it being a clean, elegant little zine, it’s an interesting look into how someone else perceives a setting. The games I ran in the World of Darkness typically came out more like a World of Weirdness or World of Insufficient Illumination. Partly because I never felt particularly compelled by the version of “darkness” presented in the published material. Christian’s characters, however, are often genuinely dark, unpleasant in their motivations or in some way flawed.

Bright elements still shine through, though. The skateboarding werewolf particularly caught my attention. To be shunned by outcasts themselves is pretty low on the pole, but he bears up and follows the path he feels is right. That’s the kind of non-player character I can get behind — and yoink for my own purposes, after a sufficient amount of folding, spindling and mutilating. I can see Jon Richter as a Nomad Feral who broke from his family to escape stifling tradition, say.

And like Theron at My Dice are Older Than You, I find this a stimulating motivation to get something in a shareable form. Don’t know what, but I’d like to get something new out in the ether this year.

Faces in the Crowd

Christian Walker, author of Destination Unknown and resolute bastion of print zines, announced the publication of Faces in the Crowd Vol. 1, a collection of fifteen non-player characters ready made for new World of Darkness games.

It’s free for the asking, although donations are accepted via Paypal. Click through to find out how to get your copy.

[Casting Call] This Man

A book from the library at Dilmun.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/helenaliu/
CC BY-ND 2.0

As the time draws closer to the next great Reckoning, more and more people across the world wake with vivid memories of long, involved conversations with a man whom they instinctively think of as “This Man.” Who he is and what they spoke about remains unclear to those who dream of him. They only remember his lack of a name and the urgency with which he spoke.

This Man’s tale, say those who know it, began long ago and in another country, in Hod, the dream kingdom of Morpheus. Then and there, he served Rex Oneiros in his White Tower in the city of Dilmun. He rose in influence and estimation, coming closer to family and confidante to Morpheus than the dream lord allowed ever before. One day, however, something happened; This Man committed some terrible sin in the eyes of his liege. No two tellers of the story agree on how or what. The eighty-seventh oracle at Delphi said he betrayed Morpheus for the love of a garden nymph. The carvings of Machu Picchu relate how This Man loaned a forbidden book from the library of unwritten works. Or maybe he told Morpheus what he really thought, as Mad Hetty insists.

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[Casting Call] The Ghost Writer

Flashback! I originally conceived and wrote this back in the winter of 2008, posting it to UniFans.org. I decided to relocate it here for the sake of completeness. Jenny was written with C.J. Carella’s WitchCraft, published by Eden Studios, in mind, but her story is vague enough to fit into most urban fantasy or horror settings.


The Ghost Writer

Every Tuesday night for the last two months, Jenny Torres has sat down at her kitchen table at exactly 6:59 PM. When the clock strikes seven, her hand grabs a pen from the coffee mug full of them and starts writing in a fresh composition book. The curious thing is Jenny has no idea what she’s going to write. Something else controls her hand and it won’t let go until midnight.

It began when Jenny got in a car wreck. Driving home from her waitressing job late one night, Jenny’s car was T-boned by a drunk driver. The driver got a broken arm and two points on his license. Jenny got a coma. So the doctors were amazed when she woke up three days later. All Jenny could recall was leaving work, and then some vague impressions of a gray land, where people blew around like leaves on the wind, and the sense of having just had a very long conversation.
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