Friday, January 15, 2016

Shadow of the Sea Lord - The Yellow Sign

Freeport isn't your run of the mill fantasy city. It's not even a run of the mill pirate city. A mix of pirates, magic, black powder weapons, ancient relics, demi-human races, and dash of Lovecraftian horror. In Freeport the Yellow Sign (which is technically not a creation of Lovecraft, I know, but is very much within the domain of "Lovecraftian horror") is the sigil of the Cult of the Unspeakable One (no, not Voldemort). The Yellow Sign and the Cults of the Unspeakable One figured prominently in the events of the original Freeport Trilogy and it has been established that the Yellow Sign is an arcane symbol of such power that just looking on it can draw a mind toward madness.

Given the power of the yellow sign it seems appropriate to consider the mechanisms of the Yellow Sign with regards to how it can affect players and NPCs. Thankfully Shadow of the Demon Lord already has some robust rules for madness and insanity, and as such the Yellow Sign merely needs to be fit within those rules.

Warning, spoilers for the Freeport Trilogy and possibly madness will follow.

Any exposure to the Yellow Sign should have the potential to instill madness. In SotDL terms this will obviously be a challenge roll with failure granting one or more points of insanity. I want the Yellow Sign to be something that is always a threat, but not always a dire one. If you know the lore in Freeport the "quality" of the Sign can impact how powerful a given sigil is. The construction of Milton's Folly, with bricks that were each inscribed with the Yellow Sign, helped to act as a conduit and amplifier for the lighthouse's beacon itself. The result was a threat on a truly epic scale that could drive a person mad with a single glance.

To help show the degrees of power in the Yellow Sign I'll be using banes and boons and also modifying the amount of insanity gained on a failed roll. For truly powerful uses of the Sign there may even be insanity gains for successful rolls showing that no mind can withstand the level of otherworldly madness.

Yellow Sign (basic) - This is a basic inscription of the Yellow Sign. It is not poorly carved/drawn nor is it especially well carved/drawn. This is likely not actually yellow in color either (a trait which some ascribe greater potency to). Likewise this inscription is in no way magically endowed or enchanted. Even the most crude rendering of the Yellow Sign draws power from the Unspeakable One that can bring madness however.
For each time a character looks at the Yellow Sign they must make a Willpower Challenge Roll or gain 1 Insanity. After such a roll the sign in question generally cannot affect a person until they complete a rest.
Possible Modifications:
  • Crudely rendered - an especially poorly rendered version of the Sign may actually be hard to see for what it is, and may make it easier to resist the foul powers of the sigil's dark master. Such Signs provide a bonus of 1 boon to the resisting character. 
  • Artistically rendered - if the crudest renderings reduce the virulence of the Sign, the most refined and artistic can actually bolster the power if the sigil in the same manner. Such Signs force 1 bane on the resisting character. 
  • Forged in Madness - While many cultists of the Unspeakable One are unhinged, only a small handful have fallen utterly into madness. Those that do often degenerate, falling inward until they are little more than catatonic tethers to their fallen god-being. There are those for whom madness provides a strange clarity, and insanity brings genius. Those in such states truly understand madness and comprehend the power of the Yellow Sign. Such understanding also grants strange insights into the creation of the Sign resulting a subtle techniques that distil more power into the sigil.  Such Signs force 1 bane on the resisting character and deal 2 Insanity if the final roll result is 0 or less. 
  • Yellow - Just carving or drawing the shape of the Yellow Sign is enough, and yet there is reason to fear a sigil that has been colored, painted, or otherwise been made yellow in color. Such signs force any Banes that roll up as a "1" to be rerolled, or force any Boons that come up as a "6" to be rerolled. In either case the second roll is retained regardless of the value. 
  • Cumulative - The Lighthouse of Drac was built with tens of thousands if not millions of bricks, each of which held an inscribed Yellow Sign that added potency to the lighthouse's beacon. Such sigils, when gathered together can amplify each other, or a specific target Sign, granting that sign 1 to 3 banes AND increasing the sanity loss by +1, +1d3, or +1d6. Such groupings of the cursed sigil also affect viewers more frequently and require save in decreasing intervals from 4, 2, and 1 hours, to 30 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes, and 1 minute. Particularly large collections may induce even greater deleterious effects on one's mental health as in the case of Milton's Folly.
    • Add one bane and increase the Insanity effect by each order of magnitude.
    • Example: A room carved with a dozen simple Yellow Signs (no modifications for quality) imposes a penalty of 1 Bane and does 2 Insanity (1+1) for failed saves. 
      • If the room contained hundreds of Yellow Signs this would increase to 2 banes and deal 1d3+1 Insanity on failure. 
      • Thousands of such sigils would force a roll with 3 banes and dealing 1d6+1 Insanity. 
      • The speed at which such collections can force saves should follow roughly the same cadence with a collection of literal millions of Yellow Signs required to force saves every 10 minutes. (see also Quickened below)
Magic is often used to bolster and enhance the basic Yellow Sign, and the most powerful such symbols often combine both magical enhancement and the mundane enhancements detailed above. Magically rendered signs of the Unspeakable One often derive from profane rituals to the dark god, and gain greater power not only to pierce through even the most willful of minds, but also to tear ever larger portions of one's sanity away.

A magically imbued Yellow Sign gains one or more of the following at the GM's discretion.

  • Triggered - A Yellow Sign can be cunningly hidden among other symbols, text, or artwork and lay in waiting for a trigger to unleash its power. A Sign with the Trigger effect only becomes active after a triggering event or time. Prior to being triggered the Sign is entirely benign; afterwards however the Sign acts as normal.
  • Quickened - Yellow Signs rendered with the proper magics are extremely difficult to resist, and can push a mind into madness in short order. Yellow Signs created imbued with Quickening magics force a new save on a viewing creature every minute until it or they are removed from the presence of the other. Signs with this magic tend to drive victims to gouge out their own eyes.
  • Arcane - Arcane Yellow Signs gain simple degrees of potency, imposing 1-3 banes and/or increasing the Insanity by +1, +1d3, or +1d6. Particularly powerful sigils may impose both, and the most legendary are often Quickened as well. 
  • Penetrating - Only the most powerful of rituals (or the most massive collections of sigils working in concert) ever achieve this effect. A penetrating Yellow Sign always deals a minimum of 2 Insanity on a failed roll, but ever worse it is capable of finding cracks in even the most impervious of wills and so it inflicts 1 point of Insanity even on a successful test to resist the power of such a Sign. 

The more powerful the more effort and time to perform such rituals is required. The profane beacon that was built into the Lighthouse of Drac was literally imbued brick by brick and contained millions of sigils each with minor enchantment. The end result was a Yellow Sign beacon that lit the skies over Freeport and could drive men and women mad with a single glance. Thankfully the machinations of Milton Drac and the Cult of the Unspeakable One were stopped, for surely had the beacon been allowed to remain lit it would have become a new manifestation of the Shadow.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Nuts & Bolts #62 - Here Be Dragons

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Is there a role-player who doesn't love maps? Is it truly as common a thing among those of us who enjoy this hobby as it seems? Whether you like to draw them, or simply take enjoyment from the map-work of others it certainly seems to be one of the common things that bind our sub-culture together.

I'm no cartographer. Hell, I'm hardly even a capable amateur. At best I can muddle about and make something functional. It's nothing I worry about overmuch, I know my talents lie elsewhere, and I know that there are many very capable folks out there who draw (or otherwise craft) gorgeous maps I can enjoy. 

Have you ever wondered what use are maps though? Whether for combat or for world building maps are important to know where stuff is, and in doing so to understand where things are not, and what proximity factors there are. 

World maps help us understand both the physical and political boundaries of the kingdoms that our stories take place in. They show us where major places lay, and give us a means to determine how our characters will travel toward their next adventure. 

But what about what they don't show? I think that this is the real power of maps in fantasy, and by extension in our hobby. The undefined edges of the world, those spaces where once upon a time you might see a serpent or dragon or even a written comment, "Here be dragons." 

An overly detailed and specified map leaves less room for the unknown. Think about a map of Earth; there isn't much on there that you probably cannot identify at least at a high level, and at a more detailed level we have so much knowledge at our fingertips that we can find out whatever you wish. Contrast that with the characters in our games, they look at the edge of their maps and there is maybe a vague hint, or perhaps nothing at all. 

Here be dragons. 

Even in games of science fiction there is a limit to our knowledge of this vast galaxy of ours, and even more so a limit to what we know of the galaxies beyond our own. The mystery of that unknown drives many of us. In our past people explored beyond the edges of the map to discover new things, to seek new riches, or simply "because it was there." 

I think that's why I took to Numenera so quickly. The folks at Monte Cook Games seemed to understand that the mystery of exploration is something in our blood, something that we lack in the modern day and they gave that back to us. Other games feature hex crawls, or dungeon crawls, and both are in their own ways meeting that need for exploration and discovery as well. 

I don't have much advice to dispense this week, no real thoughts on how to better run a game, or plot an adventure. I just wanted to share these thoughts, to talk about something that I think speaks to why we game. Maybe not all of us, maybe not every game, but at least some of the time we are fumbling for the edge of the map, wondering what kind of dragons we'll find when we get there.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Story Seed - Last Goodbye

The door opened and Graham looked up to the the silhouette of a distinctly feminine form in in the window of light. He cocked his sixgun, the sound broke the silence almost like the gunshot it foreshadowed. "Hi Graham, 'bout time you came to see me," McKenna said as she entered the room. Graham didn't say a word. "Fine, fine, I get it. You're here to kill me. Course if you really had the guts you'd have pulled the trigger already. So what is it you are here for? Gonna pay off your debt to me? It's rather high after what you did to Chuckles." She tsk'ed, "Honestly, shooting him in the back like that. I thought you had better moral character than that."

Graham barked a harsh laugh at that, "Moral fiber; like you'd know anything about it." He flipped the light on with his left hand, "I seem to recall you have been as devious as a snake since you were in pigtails." He shook his head, "I'll kill ya if I need to Kate, but all things being equal I'd just assume you drop this bounty thing and we go our separate ways."

"Why mister McKenna, you are ever the romantic," she smirked, and Graham thought he could see a genuine touch of smile on her face. "I never thought that the great Graham McKenna would stoop to re-negotiating a deal at gunpoint, but maybe there's hope for you yet." She walked closer until he raised his gun, with an obvious look that told her any further would be dangerous. "If you want to call it square you'll want the contract, I assume, so you can destroy it. So if you'd be a peach you'll let me get at my safe so I can get that for you."

"Don't work that way this time. You've burned me for the last time." Graham pulled a pair of ionized binders off the table to his left and tossed them to his ex, "Put those on, then tell me the code for your lockbox."

"You thought of everything I guess. OK, I'll play. I always did like you best when you took charge." As Graham laughed bitterly she locked the binders to her wrists. "It's over there, behind the painting. The code is our anniversary."

Graham stood up and moved to the painting, it was a seascape, one he'd given her oh so many years before just after they had been married. "You're a real piece of work," he said as he keyed in the code. The safe popped open and Graham rifled through the papers inside for the contract. "Ah, and here it is. Most damned fool thing I ever did after wedding you." He tore the papers to shreds.

"So that's it then? The last of our ties severed. What's next?"

Graham turned and looked at Kate, he noted that a tear was running down her cheek. "Croc tears? That's unbecoming of you."

"Whatever you may think Graham I loved you, and maybe I still do. You're the one who left, the one who cheated, and welshed, and broke his commitments."

"Yeah. I do that." The gun thundered.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Last Week Today - Week of December 28, 2015 - January 10, 2016

Wednesday Dec. 30
Nuts & Bolts - Context is Key

Story Seed - To Kill the Devil ...

Nuts & Bolts - Rolling Thunder

2016 Project #1 - Shadow of the Sea Lord


Did you watch  +James August Walls+Ryan Chaddock, and I discuss the Numenera book Into the Night? If you missed it you can watch it on YouTube! And if you liked it you can look forward to more, we decided to make this a "thing" on a basis that could be called "recurring." Our third episode of Cypher Live will be later this month, and we'll be discussing The Strange's Worlds Numberless and Strange.