Sunday, March 30, 2014

Encyclopedia Galactica

We picked up this gem for $3 yesterday. It came out in 1979. The entire book is written with an in-setting voice, just the way we like it. Even the author credit is in character. The author, Dr. Bruce Kraus, holds degrees in Galactic History and Human Archaeology from the Tauron Center for Science and the Arts. The author photo is in costume.

No extraneous commentary here about producers, writers, and actors , or behind-the-scenes details on alien make up, props, and special effects, as we see with so many Doctor Who products these days. I remember the strong disappointment I felt as a youth after opening the original Star Wars blueprint set. The blueprint made it clear that what we saw on the big screen were in fact stage sets.

Unacceptable. Give me immersion or step-off.

Fortunately, the Encyclopedia Galactica keeps its focus on descriptions and photos of the characters, ships, and aliens of the original series. (There were a couple of alien races, in addition to the Cylons.)

I got rid of 9 boxes of RPGs yesterday (just not enough space for them all). Finding the Encyclopedia Galactica and reacquainting myself with old friends like Lucifer (the first gay robot?), and the real Baltar, provided some consolation.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Fist-of-God Campaign

Our Ringworld Reloaded scenario at Con of the North ended with the PCs entering the Ringworld though the enormous "hole" in the structure's outer wall. The hole was created (presumably) by a collision with a rogue planet at some time in the distant past. The hole opens onto the interior surface of the Ringworld, where it takes the form of a 200 KM tall conical mountain, the Fist-of-God.

The PCs took their ship right through the hole, but lost control in the vortex of storms above the mountain's apex. The ship bounce-crashed its way down the Fist-of-God, destroying several mountainside monasteries along the path of their descent. Fortunately, the ship had a General Products hull, which is for all intents and purposes indestructible. Shipboard emergency stasis fields activated, and the next thing the crew knew their ship had landed in the middle of a city at the base of the Fist-of-God. There was a ring of fire around the ship; the city was burning.

Our heroes put the fire out, and were invited by local dignitaries to visit the fallen sky castle that was in the center of the city. This structure was the only area of the city to have an energy signature consistent with high technology. The rest of the city was at a 19th century level of industrialization.

A multi-species ecumenical delegation of priests welcomed the visiting Sky Gods (our PCs) to the sky castle. But the priests were surprisingly unsubmissive, insisting that the PCs stay put in the castle and learn a variety of Ringworld languages, both humanoid and Kzin. Then a discovery: one of the PCs sneaked off to discover the source of the energy emissions within the sky castle. The priests were soon forced to reveal their holy-of-holies: a three-dimensional holographic projection room with a real-time display of the Ringworld.

The scenario ended there. But I plan to use this setting as a home base for an episodic campaign, taking place at successive conventions where I run games. Here are the starting campaign issues:

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Fate Follows Physics

The title of this post is more or less a funny. It got the Kzinti smiling - but how about you? Yes, today we have a little transverse take on the axiom: "Fate follows fiction".

It occurred to me after GMing my Ringworld Reloaded scenario at Con of the North that if you're running hard SF, you'd better know something about physics. Fate game rules don't simulate it, but if the GM doesn't understand how physics works, it really can break player (and GM) immersion in a hard SF game. Having one or two players who know a little bit of physics can help.

Rachel Kronick's account of the scenario (linked above) briefly mentions the party's "long approach" to the Ringworld. That was because the players discovered an alien starship docked with the Ringworld, as well as a mystery satellite that was orbiting close to the Ringworld's sun, well inside the ring. They knew they weren't alone, and were curious and suspicious. (Really suspicious: they suspected the satellite was some kind of nova bomb.)

The players began a delicate game of cat-and-mouse with drones, attempting to scout out the alien ship and the satellite without being observed themselves. That slowed things down a bit.

But all the players were "in the zone", and immersed in what they were doing.  They were having fun with the game.

Of course, I could have elided all of that if the players had just wanted to decide things through a few skill rolls and declarations. But the players seemed to enjoy working out the physics. They even discovered a decimal placement error in the otherwise superlative players data handout that came with Chaosium's original boxed set.

In this case, Fate followed physics. It was their choice.

People had fun.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Legions Of The Imperial Sovereign

Spindle by Juan Ochoa

The Empire's armed companies are legion. The greatest of them have endured for centuries. The General of each Legion has a Spindle - one of the ancient, self-aware battle standards that precede the Empire itself. Some have more than one.

The equipment and roles of the Legions vary enormously. Some are essentially standing armies; others are elite guerrilla forces; still others function as assassins or secret police. Weapons vary from ancient (swords, spears) to archaic (gunpowder), from contemporary (blasters) to WMDs. Most Legions also have magical/psychic resources. Legions often have a mix of a few of these.


The Chromatic Legions were established at the foundation of the Empire by the greatest of Imperial Sovereigns, Glorious First. The color references in the first twelve Legions' names tie each to one of the various tribes (nations, really) of Comet Barbarians who came together under the banner of Glorious First. Almost all of these Legionaries can trace their clan-lines back for generations; some even have Imperial Gene Markers. Many in the Chromatic Legions are heavily gene-modified; others are cybered almost to the point of the uncanny valley.

  • Legio I Green Banner Army: The personal clan-army of Glorious First; this legion is always posted to the zones of conflict where the Empire is actively expanding.
  • Legio II Legion of the Red Moon: Honor guards of the Imperial Sibyls' lunar temple above the ancient machine world of Altair IV.
  • Legio III Vermillion Eagle Cloud: Orbitally-stationed bounce troops defending the Throne World of Altair III; medium mobile infantry.
  • Legio IV Golden Halo: Palace guards stationed to Imperial Throne World facilities on Altair III.
  • Legio V Black Coeurl: City-killers.
  • Legio VI Pallid Messengers: Marines exclusively used for hyperspace boarding actions. 
  • Legio VII  Errant Cobalt Star: Child comet-soldiers led by a ghost.    
  • Legio VIII Yellow Turbans: Dispersed across the Empire in very small units; have legal authority to depose any Imperial Sovereign they deem unworthy of the Throne.
  • Legio IX Pink Nebula: Escort diplomats into dangerous territories; often tasked with assassinations and covert operations.
  • Legio X Black Metallics: Spider mech troops; often assigned to joint operations with the R.U.R. Workers-State
  • Legio XI Brown Reed: Desert rigged units stationed on Altair III and other arid worlds.
  • Legio XII Golden Eagle of Amarna: Personal escort of the Imperial Sovereign.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

First Impressions Of Tianxia

Tianxia: Blood, Silk, & Jade is a new setting and sourcebook for Fate Core, now available in PDF. It's based on the Chinese wuxia genre as well as being inspired by some of the martial classics of Chinese literature, such as the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Outlaws of the Marsh. I love the game's art which seems spot-on for the genre. Tianxia strikes me as a worthy successor to Weapons of the Gods. 

(And yes, I know about the WOTG successor Legends of the Wulin - and have it in PDF - but if I can't ever get a hard copy in my FLGS, then what good does it do me?)

It's set in an ur-China, which is intended to make it easier for someone who is not an expert on Chinese history to run the game. But you could always pick up Alephtar Games' wonderful Celestial Empire supplement for Basic Role Playing to add more of that interesting and gameable historical detail. Or if you are on a budget, just read author Gianni Vacca's erudite Celestial Empire blog for a regular dose of additional gaming background and inspiration.

For our part, we're trying to persuade a friend to join us in co-creating a shared world province suitable for troupe-style Tianxia play. We're also considering creating a space operatic martial arts Legion for our Empire setting:

The Legion That Flies Into the Face of Death

Sounds good to me.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Ringworld Reloaded Redux

Over at the Blade & Crown blog, Rachel Kronick has written a good summary of the Fate-based Ringworld Reloaded game that I ran at Con of the North in mid-February. I'd encourage you to go over and check it out!

In this post, I'm sharing a few additional details of the set-up of my Ringworld Reloaded game:
  • Most of my prep work involved re-reading Chaosium's Ringworld RPG boxed set. It's all the source material I needed, since my setting was an extrapolation from Larry Niven's original Ringworld novel, rather than a faithful extrapolation of numerous successive Ringworld stories.
  • Three of the four players were new to Fate. We did character generation on the fly. It went pretty smoothly. I used the character sheet and skills from Sarah Newton's Mindjammer RPG - the new second edition of Mindjammer for Fate Core. The Mindjammer skill set worked well. It has everything you need for a SF space opera game. The Culture aspect is a very welcome addition to Fate Core's standard High Concept and Trouble aspects. Each character was from a different culture/species and world, so their Culture aspects were quite distinct. 
  • We went pretty light on Stunts, creating just one or two per character. That worked just fine for a one-shot, on-the-fly game. Mindjammer offers a very robust group of stunts, though, so for an ongoing campaign, I'd consider using some or all of them.
  • Characters included "Speaker to Machines" a male Kzin engineer working for the Matriarchy (one of the rival Kzinti states which emerged - coincidentally - at exactly the same time as the Puppeteer Exodus), a human Crashlander, and members of two species borrowed from SPI's Starforce: Alpha Centauri wargame: 
    • The itinerant Rame, a race with "multiple, group transferring minds"
    • The L'Chal Dah (sp?), a humanoid but highly modified (i.e., "transhuman") race.
  • The two SPI species were discovered due to the expansion of Known Space from a diameter of about 60 LY to 80 LY. The humans and L'Chal Dah have a shared contact world called Better Together; Rachel, who played a member of this species, said that was a pretty "Larry Niven" world name. 
  • The Mindscape existed in my setting; the standard interface with it was one of Niven's plug-in deep brain stimulation devices called a Droud. In Ringworld Reloaded, the Droud allows for both a direct neural interface with the Mindscape, as well as self-stimulation of the pleasure centers of the brain (Niven's original use of the devices).
  • The action started in Krushenko's: the bar - located near the UN, I believe - where the original "PC party" gathered in the novel Ringworld. Krushenko's has become something of a fixture on the local convention scene, as each major Twin Cities science fiction and fantasy convention has a theme room with this name. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that a Krushenko's made an appearance at Con of the North.

Next time, we'll talk about the end of the scenario - and how it sets the stage for an episodic Ringworld campaign!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

New Eikones For Weird Adventures!

We're talking about Eikones - just over Bob's shoulder to the left

This post has a small spoiler for the first season finale of HBO's True Detective.

Trey Causey's Weird Adventures RPG setting features several different religious traditions in a D&Dified version of pulp NYC. There's the Old Time Religion (evangelical monotheism), the Oecumenical Heirarchate (Catholic/Orthodox monotheism), Native and Black diasporic religions, and numerous petty gods and spirits. And then there are the Eikones.

Pronounced "icons" (yes, just like 13th Age, although Weird Adventures came first), the Eikones are spiritual personifications of various aspects of human experience. A few of the big ones include:
  • Management - representing, government, bureaucracy, law and order
  • Phile - the spirit of solidarity, popular in the unions
  • Doll - beauty, seductiveness, sexual power (regardless of the faithful's gender)
  • Maker - technology, industry, science
Well, in the "The Anagrammatist", the Weird Adventures tale I ran at Con of the North (chronicled here, and here, and here), two new Eikones were introduced: one by the players, and one by me. 

In this post, I'll share both of them and provide some contexts in Fate for how they can be used.

A person devoted to an Eikone (i.e., one who believes in that Eikone; follows it or seeks to emulate it; and takes it as an Aspect/Extra) can invoke the Eikone for help by spending a Fate Point. Similarly, an enemy can offer a Fate Point to compel a person who follows an Eikone . In that situation, the Eikone will exert a negative influence or inflict stress on the target. 

Here are the two Eikones:

The Hand

The player who ran Dr. Haint, stage magician and occult illusionist, created the Eikone of The Hand: a personification of both the luck of the draw, and of the relationships among the cards that create an advantageous opportunity.

The Hand can be invoked by a follower to Create an Advantage when gambling, or to uncover relationships between seemly unrelated things in scene that could be turned to one's advantage; another can compel a follower of The Hand and force them to reveal a secret advantage they've been hiding.


The Eikone known as Trauma (and sometimes as TRAUMA) is the secret force behind the figure of Nicolai Limrovic - the villain known as The Anagrammatist. This Eikone is very recent; it was instantiated by the encirclement, betrayal, and destruction of the country of Carcossa during the Great War, and of the Carcossan people's subsequent expulsion from their once-bucolic homeland and their new status as exiles who are strangers in a strange land. The Carcossans suffered the ultimate indignity: their homeland no longer appears on any map.

As with the TV series True Detective, the question is not whether there is something supernatural about Carcossa. The question is what is its meaning in the story? What does it stand for?

In "The Anagrammatist", lost Carcossa was a real place, surrounded and destroyed by contending belligerent powers. Thanks to Limrovic's Recapitulations, his people's Trauma is now universalized; personal pain has become hypostatized into an Eikone that stands for loss, death, separation, and fear. A Trauma which breeds a compulsion to reproduce, reenact, recapitulate, and amplify that original pain again and again.

The Eikone of Trauma can be invoked by a follower for use in a mental Attack. The follower either projects their own traumatic emotions and experiences onto a new victim, or forces someone to relive a traumatic experience of their own - their worst experience; a follower of Trauma can be compelled by reminding them of their traumatic experience in some way. Oftentimes such a compel will trigger a trigger catatonia, a dissociative state, or flight in its target.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Weird Adventures: The Anagrammatist, Part Three

Bragaglia's "Thais" (1917)

"An act of faith in the futility of all things." This is the third and final installment of our Con of the North convention report on "The Anagrammatist", a Weird Adventures tale using Fate Freeport Companion. I shared details about how I converted the setting to Fate, as well as my character designs here, and shared the opening details of the scenario here.

At the end of Part Two of our report, the PCs had made a grisly discovery: a movie theater in Little Carcossa, the Old King Cinema, had a full house of strange corpses. A finger poke proved the corpses to be waxy, fluid-filled sacs surrounded by a thin membrane of skin. The corpses were dressed like other immigrant residents in the neighborhood of Little Carcossa.

A strange, silent film was playing.

Doctor Haint went upstairs to the projection booth, only to be surprised from behind by a frightful, yellow masked figure, who whispered "May I have a word with you?" before disappearing into thin air.

Meanwhile on the main floor of the Old King Cinema, other members of the party were jolted into alertness when the house air conditioning turned on... and began pumping out a strange smelling gas. The players surmised that the gas might just have something to do with the strange corpses - perhaps it was an amorphing solution in gas form? Had the entire theater been converted into an execution chamber? Was the intent to harvest the soul-fuel necessary necessary to summon miniature sun in the Taxman's apartment building (as described in Part Two)?

Everyone hightailed it out of the theater, and the PCs began their research in earnest.

Millionaire socialite Vernon Astra started making inquiries in the art world. Were there any Carcossan silent films? Yes. Just one, an Expressionist film called Let Me Spell the Death of You. The film had a poor reputation: it only garnered one published review in The City's papers, and a brief one at that:

"Let Me Spell the Death of You" is an act of faith in the futility of all things. Expressionism at its worst. Subtitles in Carcossan. No translation. Thankfully.

Something bad had happened to the critic shortly after the review was published. Crossing the street, the reviewer had been hit by a fruit truck and and dragged for five city blocks. Poor fellow: it was a closed casket affair.

The PCs dug even deeper and discovered a few more things:
  • Only one actor was listed in the credits - one Nicolai Limrovic - who played the wicked, "Masque of the Red Death"-like masked Carcossan King in the film.
  • After the film's release, Limrovic, apparently now an emigre living in The City, had a second career staging grisly "spontaneous living theater performances" which he termed "Demonstrations" or "Recapitulations." 
  • Twisted language and wordplay played a central role in these demonstrations.
  • Limrovic's final performance took place on a subway train and involved the deaths of everyone on the train. 
  • The City's Exterminators were charged with capturing Limrovic; he was reportedly executed by being rendered in the chemical vats of The Gasworks neighborhood. 
The PCs concluded that somehow Limrovic had come back. They set a clever trap for him. Vernon Astra had discovered that a print of Let Me Spell the Death of You was locked away in the secure vaults of the Museum of Dangerous Art. He made a sufficiently large contribution (i.e., bribe) to the Museum to be put on its board of directors, and be given the film on more or less permanent loan.

Of course, the PCs next step was to view the film. It became clear upon viewing that the film recapitulated the destruction of Carcossa by the contending belligerent powers of the Great War. With each scene in the five-act film, the PCs had to made WIS rolls (i.e., Sanity Rolls); a few of the players suffered Consequences as Mental Stress accrued. By the end of the film, our heroes were shaken, and convinced that there was something profoundly wrong with this sinister work of art!

The PCs arranged for a public screening of the film. Vernon Astra insisted upon it as a way to draw out Limrovic, and simultaneously thin the herd of arrivistes, poseurs, and social climbers cluttering up The City's social scene. Astra found a good screening location: a posh bar called The Caviar.

The players preparations for the screening were outstanding. Preparations took the form of Create Advantage rolls. Doctor Haint used his special deck of cards to create a magical intrusion detector so that our heroes would have early warning of Limrovic's arrival on the scene.  Simultaneously, Alex Gold, the Bronze Titan of Science used his ample weird science skills to jury rig a "magical lightning rod" or ground for the entire space. Pull the guillotine switch, and the theater would become a huge magical sink.

Camilla, the China Doll Martial Artist, decided to dress in traditional frilly Carcossan girls' garb, and to position herself prominently in the screening room. Creepy, creepy.

Their plans worked well. Once the film had progressed to the scenes of the great powers' invasion and the carnage they wrought in Carcossa, the atmosphere began to change. Audience members began vicariously experiencing - recapitulating - the fear and trauma of Carcossa's utter destruction. A few of the audience fled the theater in sheer terror. Many began to scream.

The stage was set, and The Anagrammatist stepped through the movie screen, just as a giant airship loomed front and center in the film.

Doctor Haint's cards gave off their alarm; Alex Gold pulled the guillotine switch, the magical damper began its work (as it turned out, this hampered Doctor Haint more than The Anagrammatist), and the real fight commenced.

The foundations of the theater shook; the ceiling cracked and dust rained down. The Anagrammatist was able to cast one anagram spell: The Caviar --> Vicar Hate.

In spite of the distraction, carnage, and chaos caused by the machine gun toting cleric Vicar Hate, the terror created by the film, and presence of the The Anagrammatist himself, the PCs prevailed in the fight.

They made the very wise recommendation that The City lock-up The Anagrammatist in a nameless box - something that The Anagrammatist couldn't spell into something else and escape.


Tomorrow we'll be back with two new Eikones for Weird Adventures - powerful spirits that personify certain concepts - that emerged from our story.

Source: The Horrors of Malformed Men

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Letter Home

Dear Brother:

You asked why I haven't replied to your messages. I was tempted to reply "Because we're busy here dealing with a plague." But really, that's quite recent.

I haven't responded to your letters because they offend me. Alison's mother and I aren't interested in your opinion on the matter. The fact that my daughter wishes to be called Alison and not her birth-name of Alexander is not something you get a vote on. Earth doesn't either for that matter. Only Alison gets a vote about who she is.

Rest assured that Katerina and I are keenly aware of the poison you've been sending Alison. Your little religious pamphlets about evolutionary psychology and neuroscience: we know the arguments you're trying to make. I'd ask you to stop sending them, but really, that would be just more adult interference in Alison's life. I respect her autonomy. So does the rest of her nurture-stream on the station. Maybe you should try that too.

For the record, our household shrine is devoted to the Many-Handed Engineer. Ganeshashiva has no cares about gender identity, nor about stable forms. All who take her trunk in hand must learn to keep up with her enormous, unpredictable strides. Her syncopated beat creates ripples of change across the universe. The Engineer cares little for human conventions like gender; she recognizes the ancient philosopher's truth that no identity is absolute or fixed; they are the "motion of light in water."

One of those identities could be "brother."

But I'm starting to wax philosophical like another stinking intellectual I know. Take care of your self.

I'm headed off to do my part to stop this plague.



Friday, March 7, 2014

Pilgrim Smashing Bridge

Gogo's Meteor Hammer

Last night, our gaming group created characters and started an adventure using the playtest materials for the Fate Accelerated Edition version of Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. It was a fun session, and I am looking forward to the next one. I thought I'd post my character.

No, I didn't play Gogo. 

But Meteor Hammers are cool. I decided my monk-in-training needed one. My character's Banner (i.e., Trouble) Aspect was the Devil Buddha Meteor Hammer, an ancient and dangerous heirloom weapon of the Flying Temple. I can smash things with this very destructive weapon, one which requires great skill to use. Untrained or inattentive use of this weapon can cause bone-breaking mishaps. So the first part of my pilgrim name is "Smashing."

Figuring out my Avatar Aspect (which represents how I help other people) was a bit more difficult to puzzle out. With some help from another player, though, I figured it out: Hammer, saw, and nails.  I am a carpenter, and I often help the people who reach out to us for assistance by fixing or making things. I build (and repair) bridges both physical and metaphorical using these skills. Thus the second part of my pilgrim name, "Bridge".

He's a burly kid, the biggest in our party. I like the image of him going along with his meteor hammer slung over one shoulder, while on his other side he has a work hammer, saw, and a bag of nails. Hell, he's probably covered in sawdust a lot of the time, with a big blackened thumbnail from his last accident with the work hammer.


Pilgrim Smashing Bridge
Monk-in-training from the Flying Temple

  • Avatar Aspect: Hammer, saw, and nails 
  • Banner Aspect: Devil Buddha Meteor Hammer
  • Careful +1
  • Clever +1
  • Flashy +3*
  • Forceful +2
  • Quick +2
  • Sneaky 0
  • The Right Tools - Because I have a Hammer, saw, and nails, I can take a +2 to my Clever Approach to build something helpful.
  • Hammer Grab - Because the Meteor Hammer can wrap around something, you may take a +2 to Flashy Approach to Create an Advantage such as Grappled, or A Handhold.
Refresh: 3

*This is the skill to use a meteor hammer.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Gramsci's On Mars, But Where's Trotsky?

Antonio Gramsci is alive and well on Mars. Mussolini deported his most famous political prisoner there, but Gramsci has escaped to foment revolution among the oppressed natives of the Red Planet. That's a lot better than dying in prison. It will certainly lead to a rosier future. It's a way better than the one I lived through in the '80s and '90s when graduate students in numerous fields - ones who had never read a lick of Marx - constantly quoted Gramsci.

So what am I going on about? Blood Red Mars, the new supplement for Cubicle 7's retrofuturist pulp era WW II game, Rocket Age:

Well, of course, this is kind of cool. But it really begs the most important question: Where is Leon Trotsky? Most of the action in Rocket Age seems to be mid-to-late 30's (I don't have my copy with me, but that's what I recall). Trotsky isn't assassinated until 1940, so if it's earlier than that, he could be anywhere, and if it's 1940 or later, perhaps he is another figure who cheated death in this alternate timeline.

We certainly hope so. Mars could use Trotsky. He was certainly the best general among the original Bolsheviks. Many in the Red Army still loved him long after he went into exile. It's said that some of the troops even sang "Trotsky's Red Army" when they marched into battle in the Second World War.

On Mars, he'd be a troublemaker. He's probably get there by sneaking across the border from Mexico and enter the U.S. to find his rocket to the Red Planet. Trotsky liked Americans; his personal bodyguard was an American farmboy. He'd travel to Mars with the Lincoln Brigade.

Once he got there, all bets are off. My guess is that the fledgling Soviet states on Mars would be neutral towards Trotsky - and possibly even friendly depending on who he was making trouble for on the Red Planet. He might even end up with a Red State of his own. This could be the springboard for a really fun Rocket Age campaign.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Weird Adventures: The Anagrammatist, Part Two

It's not often that people leave Carcossa with a smile on their face, like the gent pictured above. Bob played the millionaire socialite Vernon Astra in "The Anagrammatist", my Con of the North adventure using Trey Causey's Weird Adventures setting. Think "D&Dified version of pulp era NYC" and you have the basic idea of what the setting's like. The basic scenario set-up and character designs are described in Part One of my convention report, here; I used the character generation and magic rules from the Fate Freeport Companion to build out the adventure.

The game started with a summons. Each PCs was on-call to the City as a special problem solver, on the City's Master Contract. Each had been assigned a "token" of some kind, so that The City could contact them in times of need. Vernon Astra's token was a special limousine - with full bar - that the City used to summon him for special assignments. Each of the PCs was brought to a special room in the legendary Fate Exchange in the downtown Financial District. There, the City Manager informed them that "the machines in the basement" had an assignment for them: the PCs were to go to a certain nearby apartment address, belonging to a Taxman who had not reported for work, and investigate.

The PCs soon arrived at the Taxman's brownstone in nearby Pentacle Park. City Hall, and the Municipal Department of Taxation and Finance, were also located in the same neighborhood; this guy clearly lived pretty close to where he worked. The apartment building was radiating a great deal of heat. The PCs feared that a fire was imminent, so they broke into the building, and rushed to the apartment whose address they had been given. The PCs broke the apartment door down, and upon entering the Taxman's apartment, found a miniature sun floating in the middle of the living room.

There were small fires everywhere. A lot of paper was burning: tax ledgers. This Taxman apparently liked to bring his work home. No sign of the Taxman, though, just that sun floating in the middle of the room.

Tax Man --> Max Tan.

An anagram. (It's OK to groan.) The place reeked of magic, and of time running out. A couple of our heroes raced to help other tenants evacuate the building. A short time later, that sun went nova, and the apartment burst into flames.

Paper flew everywhere. It blasted out of the apartment's windows, into the streets, and into the sky surrounding the apartment building. Curiously enough, most of the paperwork that blasted out of the apartment building appeared to be records from tax ledgers. Much of the paper gusted out and up.

Doctor Haint used a spell similar to Eye of the Nexus to follow the resulting magical flaming paper trail. Alex Gold, the Bronze Titan of Science, improvised an aircraft from his roadster and took to the air with Doctor Haint, following the trail. The lines of magical force landed on numerous rooftops in the adjacent immigrant neighborhood of Little Carcossa, where they began to kindle, like small fires in the trenches of the Great War.

The epicenter of the paper meteor storm was a long-abandoned neighborhood theater, the Old King Cinema. Doctor Haint picked the lock (stage magicians are good at this sort of thing), and the PCs entered a theater, all of whose seats were taken-up by waxy corpses. The corpses were fresh - kind of. The PCs poked one, its skin broke, and fluid seeped out everywhere.

A strange silent movie played. The subtitles were in an odd blocky foreign script. The early scenes were of bucolic festivals and scenes of life in a small country that is no more - a country erased from the map. Soon that country was surrounded, swallowed-up, obliterated by armies and weapons of the Great War. Amorphing shells and acid fogs rained down from airships up above. Villages and towns were pounded by artillery using thaumaturgical munitions.

All of the horrors of war. No way out. And a King who sealed himself with all his military officers, and the nobility, within the walls of his castle. Once the drawbridge was drawn and the gates had been barred, the King enjoyed himself by turning the guests on one another in a series of ruinous homicidal social games and contests. Meanwhile, the King's subjects outside the castle's walls were utterly destroyed.

Old Carcossa. We're never far from there in The City.

More to come, in Part Three!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Campaign Aspects For Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Alchemist"

Art by J.K. Drummond

I read Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Alchemist" this weekend, a novella set in a shared fantasy world that Bacigalupi co-created with Tobias Bucknell. The world is one in which every use of magic provokes the growth of an invasive, thorned and bushy weed called "bramble".

Imagine a world overtaken by hedges. Magic in this world doesn't go away, but arable land, clear urban space, and roads do disappear as bramble grows. Magic-using civilizations fall, choked by bramble. Refugees fill the cities that have not yet fallen to bramble. It's a world living on borrowed time, just like ours. Magic can't get rid of bramble - quite the opposite, in fact. When magic is used to clear bramble, the weed quickly comes back with a vengeance.

The novella begins when our protagonist, an alchemist, discovers a non-magical alchemical technique to eradicate bramble, seeds an all. All sorts of chaos ensues.  The setting and story can easily be framed using Fate Core's Game Creation Rules:
  1. Current Issue: "Magic brings bramble" (p. 79 of the novella)
  2. Impending Issue: An alchemist's discovery turns everything on its head.
Bacigalupi and Bucknell have created a very interesting and dangerous shared world.