Current work…writing scripts

For the last few months, on top of travelling and attending a bazillion courses, I’ve been writing.

I’ve written five short scripts in the world of THE 23RD LETTER. I’ve written two more in the world of STATUS: REFUGEE. I’ve written one horror script. And I’m looking at writing some scripts based on FRONTIER and QABAL very soon. And there’s one very special property that I would love to pitch to the BBC…

Two of my scripts are going into production in 2017 and I’ll be doing a “mobile phone” shoot of one of my scripts probably over the upcoming holidays.

So, all change.

QABAL: INTENT vs IMPLEMENTATION

This thread on rpg.net asks why secret magical settings in games tend to be dumb.

My problem is, it’s never made any sense to me on an absolutely fundamental. The idea in most of these settings is that humans not only don’t believe in the supernatural, they’ll even go so far as to doubt their own personal experiences and rationalize them away, or at the very least refuse to talk about them for fear of being labeled insane. That sort of thing would make sense in the real world, where everyone (or close enough) knows magic doesn’t really exist. But the reason everyone stopped believing in magic in the real world is because it actually doesn’t exist. In a fictional world where magic not only exists but there are monsters that kill people, I see absolutely no reason humanity would stop believing in magic. It’d be suicidally stupid on a species-wide level.

My reply:

Is it going to depend on what your magic effects are?

When magic is showy then it’s going to be hard to hide it. Fireballs, teleporters, flying stuff, people walking through walls, turning into werewolves, eating people – all of that stuff is going to be reported, captured, measured, verified.

When Mage or Werewolf came out in the early 90s, not everyone in the developed world had a cameraphone. It’d be a different world now.

The pitch for Qabal was that magic would not be able to be measured. The importance in magic was the INTENT and not the IMPLEMENTATION. There may be a TELLTALE but for the most part there’s only INTUITION to help you deduct a connection.

Look at The Omen for a great example.

Damien Thorne, the son of the devil, had several telltales. The black dog was one of them but another was found in the photographs.

From wikipedia:

While developing the pictures of the day, Jennings notices the priest has a dark object like a javelin over his head in the pictures he appears in, but the anomaly doesn’t appear anywhere else on the film.

Jennings is also at the event, taking pictures. The pictures again show the dark anomaly above the priest.

As the priest leaves, a sudden rainstorm comes up and the priest is impaled in a freak accident while trying to get into a nearby church.

Jennings said he is now involved because he found an anomaly on a picture of himself in which he has no neck.

Jennings goes after the knives, saying he will do it, and is decapitated in a freak accident.

Damian wouldn’t have engineered the process of the falling church spire or the panes of glass. He’d have registered his intent that they die. And magic would take care of the rest.

The theft of the Book of Raziel

I’ve stolen the main text here from page 54 of the Smallville RPG but remodeled it on Qabal:

Isaac’s player, James, says, “I step into the room from where I have been eavesdropping and accuse Rothschilde of stealing the Book of Raziel.” He then grabs his TRUTH die and his CIRCLE die. None of his other assets apply (he is not trying to intimidate). He rolls both dice and adds them together to get his action result of 8.

Rothschilde’s player, Gerald, rolls before replying. He picks up his POWER die, his ILLUMINATI die and his DECEIT die. He rolls them together and picks the highest two, getting a 12 for his result. He says, “I look Isaac straight in the eye and cooly tell him that I was out of the country until this afternoon, which is a lie but he doesn’t know that.”

I’m wondering whether the mechanic would work. I think it’s the right level of non-violence (except when needed). I think it might drag in the right amount of other factors into a challenge. For one thing, Qabal would not suit the slap-dash mechanics of ZOMBI nor the gun-calibre specificity of The 23rd Letter. Would it suit SixSimple? I’m not sure – but the construction of Rmaps and relationships/values/connections/resources seems perfect.

OK, it’s no secret I’m just a big geek.

Smallville, Serenity, Firefly

I got the Serenity book a few months ago from Sub City in Dublin and the Smallville book arrived today from Amazon.

Both use derivatives of the Cortex system from Margaret Weiss Productions. While Serenity uses the Cortex systems in a “traditional” way, Smallville uses it in an interesting way. To perform an action, it’s not really how talented or skilled you are, it’s about how much the action matters to you, how it aligns with your values and who will benefit from the action. That’s interesting because it aligns partly with what I had in mind for Qabal – even though I may not have realised what I had in mind. I’d still likely use a card-based system rather than a dice-based system but the mechanic is interesting.

Smallville is a TV based on the early years of Superman/Clark Kent, concentrating on the period before he put on the red cape and blue tights. It’s mostly a teen drama similar to Roswell, 90210 or Gossip Girl. The series plays loose with the Superman mythology, altering timelines and characters to provide a episodic story (which has been denounced as “Freak’o’the Week”. They are also, for the most part, blaming the rise of superheroes on the kryptonite meteor rocks which accompanied Clarks escape pod. As plot devices go, that’s quite clever. The story arc is detailed enough and they’ve even resurrected the JSA to provide older mentor roles.

What turned me onto Smallville was an Actual Play on RPG.net. in this AP, the GM (Watchtower) is running a game entitled “Gotham” which is chronicling the teen angst of the various personalities involved in the Batman legend; obviously Bruce Wayne but also Vic Sage (the Question), Talia Al Ghul, Helena Bertinelli (Huntress), Harvey Dent (Two-Face), Ted Kord (Blue Beetle) and others. He’s chewing his way through some of the old DC villains (Black Spider, Terrible Trio etc) and working up to a series end which will have some of the bigger foes. It’s an extremely compelling read.

Of course, to be able to play these kinds of games, you need players who are not only able to put themselves in the mindset but also those who are interested in the mythology of the series, whether that’s Smallville, Gotham, Roswell or Gossip Girl. I’ve met players who couldn’t get past their own biases when playing characters. Such as an atheist who couldn’t play a religious character and a caucasion who couldn’t play a black character. Most fellas seem comfortable enough playing women though (with hilarious and creepy consequences). This sort of game is a relationship drama – it’s about the interactions of people – and you can recognise them on TV as the protagonists are wound up in secrets and never seem to be able to tell the whole truth. Because that would sort stuff out. Duh

The community is developing other homebrews such as Blakes 7, The Matrix, Bugsy Malone, Teen Titans. I’m tempted to find some folk to run a Misfits game. Misfits is a E4 TV series about four young offenders who gain superhuman abilities by being exposed to a strange storm while performing their community service. The first series was extremely enjoyable, the second series starts at 9 pm tonight. It has the advantage of being “new” so you don’t have to have extensive background knowledge to enjoy the story but the disadvantage that you don’t have a lot of pre-made stuff from 50 years+ of writers and artists.

Horror – Sids Story

I wanted to write a quick horror scenario which would fit in with pretty much any game and I figured that it couldn’t just be a magical teleporting serial killer, like Jason, Freddy or Leatherface.

Inspiration for this one is “Sids Story” from the Captain Britain trade paperback.
http://www.rambles.net/capbrit_88.html
http://marvel.wikia.com/Captain_Britain_Vol_2_4

Summary: A local homeless man is infected with an alien spore. It slowly transforms him into a monster but gives him unnatural urges, bouts of superhuman strength but when they recede, he’s just plain ol’ Sid. He’s driven mad by the spore and even sees himself only as a witness to the killings – so he becomes the primary contact for information. Eventually the horror cannot be hidden beneath his rags and cap and his urges drive him underground.

Sid doesn’t get any magical abilities. He’s just strong, streetwise, ashamed of his ‘condition’ and going quite mad – in utter denial of the situation.

Sequence of Events:

  1. Establish Sid the Homeless Bum as a local contact.
  2. A powerful shapeshifting beast is defeated by the heroes. You have to make it characteristic – like the creature eats a certain organ or attacks a certain way – perhaps it leaves needles from its back littered around, each covered by a nasty toxin. Perhaps in the purple bulbous nature of its malleable flesh. Whatever it is – make it a HARD battle – but an obvious, showy, non-secret one.
    The creatures eggs were taken and eaten by some homeless people. Most died, Sid got sick – slowly.
  3. Bodies show up and it’s assumed they died of exposure. No surprise as it’s cold out. Sid contacts them saying there’s a killer out there.
  4. Bodies show up, gnawed.
  5. Body shows up, rent from ear to spleen. Sid blames the killer. The PCs find the needles.
  6. Let it die down. For a few sessions.
  7. Bring it back. Sid is changing slowly, in constant pain and still in denial. He needs food constantly so the people attacked are other homeless, the workers in the soup kitchens etc and eventually some rich kid doing community service. Sid contacts them again, both putting them off the trail and telling them more about the creature.
  8. Fight.

QABAL – the origin of Magic

In the beginning
Each culture has its own mythology, a tale of their creation. Some believe mankind came about through the spilled seed of a mighty god, whilst others believe that their maker fashioned them from the clay of the earth. Perhaps the universe was fashioned from the corpse of a great monster or from a vast pool of chemicals which coalesced into planets, mountains and man.

The dawn of Magic
In early times, man could not explain the coming of rain and winds, while lightening flashed from the sky, why some were struck down by disease and others were not. These mysteries caused man to fear as they could not control or predict it. However, some men of greater insight could recognise the coming of these events and, once they could could be recognised, they could be predicted. However, these men were still bound by their fear of the unknown. They interpreted these signs as portents from unknown, supernatural agents and when they saw no signs, they would appeal to these agents, placating them with prayers, sacrifices and complex ritual. This practise of magic in its most primitive form as a component of hysterical supersition formed the basis of early religion. Gods were fashioned from the sun and the rain, and through religion man began to construct his first great civilisations.

Customs and rituals developed over time from priest-magicians, descendants of those men of wisdom, who were charged with placating and diving the future from the gods. Their tradition was recorded through the generations from father to son and mother to daughter. The few that were written down survived many centuries and gave those who could decpiher their dead language an inestimable headstart in the mastery of magic.

Ancient cults
A cult was essentially a group of individuals who united under a common purpose with similar methods and a core belief system. Man found he could not blindly believe in a shapeless and faceless deity and therefore added features to their gods so that they might better identify them. In those primitive times it was enough to follow a totem animal, a god likened to a particular beast for familiarity and in the hope that the cult members would gain part of their god’s strength or cunning.

The great intuitive leaps occured when man finally began to apply human features to his invisible gods. The traditions and rituals, as well as the facets of these totem animals, were preserved and lived on in these anthropomorphic deities.

During the dyasties of Egypt, the priest-magicians were at their height. They had drunk deeply of science and mathematics, slaked their thirst with magic and ritual, and created a religious oligarchy that would ensure that their chosen Pharoah, often merely a child, would prosper and permit them to guide and advise him. In return for permitting them to shape the nation, the Pharoah was promised immortality. Only a fraction made it quite that far and their remains are scattered around the world on show to the masses.

The later civilisations maintained their pantheons of gods and imagined thir interactions in legends and tales of great deeds. Most still carried a vestige of their primitive past with Gods of Thunder and Rain, Goddesses of Hunting and, of couse, the mighty all-father who sired an entire race of Gods. Gods at this time were petty creatures, much like their subjects, mostly concerned with appearances, lust, greed and dominance.

The more advanced cults adopted the gods of earlier religions into their mythology, renaming them for their own uses and to ensure acceptance with their own people. The Eqyptian Thoth is possibly the most famous of these. By the Romans, he was known as Mercury but more importantly he was known to the Greeks as Hermes.

Hermes, according to legend, was the author of the Emerald Tablet. This tablet, if it ever existed, was inscribed with thriteen tenets central to the nature and working of magic. The collected works, Corpus Hermeticum, formed the basis of occult learning though it was later thought that many of the works dated to much later than originally suppposed. Despite the proof, many groups, both magical and religious, were inluenced by this work and its effect on their subsequent development cannot be ignored. It has provided a hypthetical link between the gods of ancient times and Classical Occultism.

Hermes was also known as Hermes Trismegistus, ‘The Thrice Great’, his power attaining his threefold blessing from God, according to Gnostic Jewish and Christian legend. That the works resurfaced in the Middle Ages and sparked off an interest in magical Antiquity and a subsequent reaction from the Church indicates their importance, if not their veracity.

The Greeks and Romans documented their religion (and, by inference, their magic) in their art, literature, oral history and widespread travels through the world. Their combined influence formed much of the basis of magical thought in Europe and their traditions are still upheld. There were other influences from the Germanic, Celtic and Norse peoples.

Magic also belonged to the common man in ways that religion could not. While religion and the gods were mainly the province of priests and the higher workings of magic were revealed only by magicians, a common tradition of magic was based on the occult virtues of natural or common things. This magic crossed the boundaries of society and gave simple chrms andblessings to the common people. It was not uncommon to hear part of the Liturgical Word intermingled with pidgin Greek and Latin as a medicinal or spiritual cure administered by ignorant lower clergy.

Even from its humble beginnings, Christianity began to see magic as a competitor. The people would never completely accept the new religion in place of their ancient pagan traditions. To combat this problem, they employed syncretism. They canonised some of the pagan gods, establishing them as saints in the Chirstian hierarchy and attributing their miracles to the power of God. Pagan temples were to be reconsecrated and festivals given a new Christian meaning. Stories of the old gods would still be told, but by the new clergy and where Wotan had once ruled, now a Nazarene took his place in legend.

For the commmon man, Natural magic or Occult virtues presented a viable alternaive to Chritsian prayer. In times of adversity, magic could be relied on to provide a solution where prayers seemed powerless. The Church began to preach against such activities, citing the examples laid down in biblical texts as a warning to those who would consort with demons. They even preached against the use of simple charms and the creration of brews which, though they may not deal directly with demons, were another form of idolatry. Magical practices were used and described by midwives, monks, physicians, priests, folk healers and diviners. Even common men and women who had no formal training or special talnet could harness some of this potential. Before science and medicine became enshrined in universities, it was hard to see how a physician would differ from a lay healer.

The higher echleons of the surviving cults spotted the inevitable outcome. They were greatly outnumbered and even though some of their number were members of the Church, it would not save them from the war to come.

QABAL – a history of the world

History of the world
Legend has it that in ancient times, gods walked the earth beside Man and waged great wars amongst themselves that shaped the face of the lands and seas. To end all wars, the earth was divided amongst them and great domains became ruled by mighty gods. To some was given the seas, others possessed the air, and to the best of them, control of the land. Great magic was their tool and Man was fearful of it as he was afraid of everything he did not understand.

Man did not know his place in this world and so the world stayed for thousands of years. The secrets of fire, science and eventually magic would be handed down to Man by the gods, but he was ignorant and afraid, and so would not use these gifts for many lifetimes. Eventually gods and giants disappeared from the sight of Man and lived only in tales that he would his children as the sat huddled around a fire. Some men spent a lifetime learning about magic while others described the basic principles of science and philosophy. They used both to explain the state of the world but continued to revere their ancient gods and use their names to explain anything that their limitedgrasp of science could not explain.

After an age of ignorance, Man crept out of the darkness and embraced the world of magic and science. He built grand cities and great works which he dedicated to his ancient gods. The greates of these cities was the legendary Atlantis. The greatest philosophers, scientists and sorcerers exercised the knowledge passed down by the gods and built the most advanced civilisation in the world.

The Fall of Atlantis
After millenia of fortune and prosperity, Atlantis fell. Some say their science and magic brought about a calamity they could not prevent. Others claim they were corrupt and a good and just god destroyed them for their iniquity. It is more likely that they suffered from a natural disaster and had years to leave their island paradise, which would explain how the legend lives on and the effect the Atlantean culture had on mankind.

When Atlantis fell, it was looted of its treasure and its knwoledge, and both were scattered to the four corners of the earth. Many of their magicians and scientists found their way to Egypt where they helped found a dynasty of kings. Perhaps the Egyptian Thoth, the Greek Hermes and the Roman Mercury are all based on these Atlantean survivors, who handed their advanced knowledge to a primitive society and helped them gain ascendancy over their neighbours.

Atlantis survives only in myth if it ever existed. Plato describes Atlantis in some detail, though modern thinkers still believe that Atlantis was no mor than a legend. It may well be a cipher for the origin of all knowledge, in other words the location of Eden. It has been suggested that the Bible relates to myth when it needs to. Perhaps the fall of Atlantis was during the Flood which covered the earth. The same Flood which destroyed a race of giants which walked the earth in those days alongside man.

Despite the lack of proof regarding Atlantis, there have been many people who have claimed that they are the holders of a secret lore which came from the sunken island. Even whn geographical evidence denies the possibility of a vast island-city in the Atlantic, some people still cling to the legend. The proof of Atlantis is as much a question of faith as it is a question of knowledge. If you believe it is there, then there is no need to look for it. If you know where it is, then there is no need to question its existence.

A Carpenter’s Son
During the reign of Herod the Great in a small desert backwater called Judea, a child was born who was to become the inspiration for the largest religious cult in the world a mere two thousand years later. This youth was remarkable in that he possessed knowledge and understanding of Scripture far beyond hismeagre years. During his travels as a mendicant preacher, he gained some notoriety for his skill with magic. People flocked to hear him talk and see his great works. Amongst the crowds were the sorcerers of the day. Their command of magic was considerable but even their greatest could not rival the works of this yougn upstart and thus they plotted against him.

In those days there were many cults who thrived on the ignorance and isolation of their followers and their intention was to usher in a golden age with themselves at the helm. They alone would be enlightened and they alone would control the earth. This upstart disagreed, preferring to spread the word of a universal enlightenment attainable by all. To add injury to insult, his cult was growing at a phenomenal rate and even foreigners, worhsippers of strange alien gods, came to hear him speak. At the height of his popularity, they sent their advocate to bargain with him for regency over the earth, but he refused.

As a result, their agents were sent out across the land, spreading word of how this man would throw off the yoke of Roman oppression and free them all. He knew that he could not combat them at this game. He was but one man and they were numerous. Thus through blackmail and magic, they were able to ahve him arrested and executed at the hands of the Romans. The people were demoralised but rallied behind his surviving followers. The Romans were now involved, but they could not grasp the complexity of the situation. As a result they did their best to quash what they saw as a civil uprising.

When it became clear that the situation was not as simple as they thought, they quickly realised that further action might provoke open hostilities with all sides of the community (as it would around half a century later). Thus they decided to concentrate their attention on the remaining ringleaders, a motley collection of agricultural workers, fishermen and former tax collectors. Their champion was to be Simon Magus, a foreign sorcerer of some skill. However, the resulting magical duel ended in Simon’s death and the cult went underground to avoid Roman retaliation.

During the next few centuries, the cult grew and its followers became well-versed in scripture and magic. The life of its founder and the travels of his understudies were to be documented in a great book which would be distributed across the world. their crowning victory was to come in the fourth century when they were able to capitalise on the misfortunes of the then-declining Roman empire to emerge from the shadows and present a solution to the Roman problems. Whilst the power and knowledge of the cult had grown, so too had its reputation (although at a high price, given the persecutions during Nero and Diocletian’s reigns). It only took a glimpse of this power to convince a Romano-British general, and the Church was established.

The other cults would languish willingly in relative obscurity. With the ascendancy of their former rivals, it was safer to remain obscure than risk extermination. The Middle Ages witnessed between these minor cults and Chrstianity, a war that neither won but which convinced both to strengthen their positions. A treaty saved a few from fighting among themselves but the end of that treaty is coming and all the wealth in the world is for the taking.

And for those cults who have forgotten their faith and their magic? It is expected that they will die out. Those who have magic often forget the power of one sorcerer pales alongside the power of a thousand human beings equipped with sword and flame. Then again, those with long memories and a broad perspective often point to the example of one charismatic individual who, despite humble origins, founded a tradition which has spanned two millennia.

QABAL intro – Genre

This game can be played in one of many genres. A genre is a certain style where recurring themes show up and both GM and player are expected to perform within this style. In a low magic, high suspense game then the players would be expected to react accordingly and the GM would be expected to introduce only minor magics, to keep mystery and drama high. Just as players will know how a grizzled private detective will act in film noir, the players can then play their characters according to the genre. In this way it is possible to evoke roleplaying from the group as they know what is expected of them.

Some might prefer the Scavenger campaign where the characters spend their time tracking down the legacies of lost civilisations and the belongings of dead Masters. The struggle for magic should be a recurring theme as this game was designed with the Scavenger genre in mind.

Perhaps the Haunted campaign might suit your group if they are intrigued by the concept of the afterlife and undeath. Magicians can be plagued by the spirits of lost friends.

Others may prefer the Tainted campaign – usually set in a remote geographical location where magic has twisted the region according to the whims and jealousies of the people. Remote villages in the north of England can hide as much horror as the crumbling hamlets of Dunwich and Arkham.

A fourth campaign is called Revelations which focuses on the impending doom of the new Millenium and the ending of the Covenant. As the treaty breaks down, powerful magicians may seize the opportunity to rise in power. Conflict is inevitable.

There are more genres available for a QABAL game and all they require is a little work on the part of the GM. There are start-up scenarios in the back of the book and further information to flavour the genres already mentioned.

QABAL – The essential nature of spirits

“Firm, constant faith works wonders even in the course of a flawed operation, whereas mistrust and hesitation in the soul of the worker, who holds himself aloof from all excess, leads to dissipated effort and ruin”

Spirits are constructed of matter. The matter that forms their bodies is not immutable and often depends on where they are. Often a spirit will clothe itself in more visible matter or more tangible material in order to better interact with the world.

Spirits are usually invisible but if moving in a smoky atmosphere they can be seen by the whorls and eddies they create when they move. As they can be touched, though it be light as a feather, it indicates that they have form and substance. This might also mean that they can use their teeth, claws, limbs and body to attack.

Spirits can pierce materials. Perhaps on the most base level they interleave their bodily atoms with the obstacle. Most will prefer to go around walls and through doors. Some may be able to take the aspect of liquids or gases and pass through tiny cracks in walls and doors.

“You call us monsters…but when you dream it is flying and changing and living without death” – Rachel (Cabal, by Clive Barker)

These beings, essentially of spirit, have deigned to clothe themselves in flesh. Their differences to terran forms can often be seen and it is easy to see how much of our mythology is populated with these creatures.

Sometimes the beasts do not survive the transformation unscathed. Some are broken and twisted by the experience. These creatures become our demons (Peloric Fragments…Terata) – twisted in mind and body.

The laws of summoning are clear – A creature must follow the terms of its binding which defines its shape, behaviour and loyalty.

-The Circles-
May just be simply of chalk upon the maiden ground but can be elaborate with attendant pentagrams and symbols. It may be drawn in paint, blood, coal or set permanently into the floor with stones, wooden tiles or inlaid silver.

“According to the Cabala, the dybbuk is a spirit that takes possession of a living person. A famous legend tells of how a young Cabalist was in love with a certain girl. He died and subsequently took possession of her body” – The dibbuk, by Charles Anski

-Performing a Summons-
A Circle must be drawn in which the caster remains until the binding is complete. This can take time so he should be well-prepared for his ordeal. A pentacle should also be drawn and ringed with significant symbols (such as the names of the Archangels).

It is into the pentacle that the beast will form. It will be made visible through the burning of incense using the heady scented smoke to form a representation of its body. As long as the pentacle is unbroken it will remain there. It can be given a single instruction in return for release or forced into a Vessel which should be present in a circle attached to the pentacle. Once inside the Vessel, which is naturally marked with the appropriate sigils, the caster may leave his circle.

If the Pentacle is broken (or worse yet, not present) before the completion of the ritual the caster must not leave the circle. At this point the beast is free to roam about the room and immediate area but may not be seen and cannot enter the casters circle.

Such beasts are difficult to detect and capture and they possess considerable tangible and magical power with which they may assault unprotected targets. Even those protected by a magicians circle may find themselves the victims of missiles, mundane in nature, which have been hurled by the beast whose claws and magic cannot penetrate the circle.

Truly the safest place is within that circle though remaining there may result in injury and possible loss of life. Should anyone leave the circle they immediately open themselves to the creatures claws and magic and attempts at posession.

-Binding-
Once binding has begun, the smoke appears to pour into the Vessel until the beast is wholly consumed. Its appearance returns to normal though some report a vessel becomes heavier after binding.

Almost anything is suitable for binding though what is suitable for the required task may differ. Objects (rings, doors, statues, gems), Animals (cats, toads, newts, ravens, dogs), humans (alive or dead), and Materia (blood etc for a homunculus, clay for a golem) are all suitable.

QABAL – Wandering Mystic

It came to me while I was out shopping. The voice said “You are the chosen one”. I had always known I was special. It went on “You must dedicate your life to contemplation and gather others who wish to share in sublime glory”. I knew then that this was no mere flight of fancy so I went home, quit my job, sold my house and told my wife I was leaving Sheffield for greater things. She didn’t understand at first but now I think she accepts it. She and my children now live in Newcastle with her sister.
– Father Lemuel, The Brotherhood of the Glad.

The Wandering Mystic is a strange beast. At first he makes you think of an esoteric holyman making his was across continents dispensing wisdom in return for a crust of bread. He walks barefoot and shaves his head, his clothing is coarse and plain and signifies his humility. Some may see him as a beggar or a lunatic but most regard him with awe as he flouts modern conventions.

The reality is much less romantic. He still shaves his head and walks around barefoot but he is much more likely to own several cars and his bare feet seldom touch the cold ground and are cared for by expensive manicurists. His followers work hard in their respective careers and give their worldly belongings gladly. He might be targetted by one of those documentary investigators for his new television series but every member of his collective interviewed will talk at length about how his teachings have enriched their lives

Darren Mitchell was an unemployed factory worker before his Shining Moment. His wife Sharon wasn’t quite as enthusiastic when he announced he was going to become a preacher. She was more interested in when he was going to go down the Jobmarket and get a job. This preacher malarkey was just another grand scheme. “The way I’m playing it” he would rhyme off as he was about to elaborate on the next great scheme. They were going to get rich two years ago with his chip-van sideline and last year he managed to get his hands on a load of computer games which he was going to sell down the market and make a killing. Neither made him any money so now they had a greasy smelly health risk filled with obselete computer programs occupying the front lawn. And to top it it all he wants to be a preacher.

Sharon did what any responsible mother would. She packed up her bags and moved herself and the children to her mothers house. Darren didn’t really mind. He sold the house and disappeared.

Six months later The Brotherhood of the Glad appeared on television. The documentary that featured them interviewed a few members who spoke volumes about how fulfilled they were and arranged a meeting with their spiritual leader, Father Lemuel. You can imagine the look on Sharon Mitchell’s face when she recognised her husband under the bushy beard and voluminous robes.

The Brotherhood of the Glad has been accused of brainwashing and kidnapping but nothing like that actually goes on. The acolytes wake at five in the morning and begin their chores. After that (usually at about noon, some say when Lemuel wakes up) gather into the Hall for a sermon. The sermon is mostly the usual new-age feel-good nonsense but normally sensible people attend and afterwards speak volumes of well-being and confidence they have received as a result.

Darren takes his new life quite seriously. He honestly believes that he is enriching lives when he speaks. The fact that others more successful than him agree with him provides him with more proof. He sees his relaxed lifestyle, collection of soft furnishings and numerous sexual partners as his legitimate payment for his services. He doesn’t believe in magic but has a strong belief in fate, luck and destiny, People who he perceives as lucky instantly earn his friendship as part of his personal philosophy is to surround himself with positive influences. This means lucky people, wondrous examples of art and craft and beautiful women.

In Qabal:
Though not a magician, this character wields considerable power. He may have a touch of magic that has been realised through this vocation. He would not be a suitable as a player character unless the other players were also important members of the same cult. He coould be a powerful ally and a powerful enemy as his disciples include city lawyers and brokers and family members of other influential people.

QABAL – The Orthodox Sorcerer

I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe. I’ve touched the Hand of God, I’ve
watched Angels feasting on the entrails of Devils, witnessed the seven
headed dragon and yes it burned me. Yes it burned me. And tonight, when
the stars are right, you too shall be burned. More tea, Vicar?

– Henry Olcott, Grand Magister

The Orthodox Sorcerer is perhaps the most familiar to the scholar.
Commonly recognised by a long robe, also seen with a flambuoyant headdress
and a penchant for much ritual and pomp. While some will dress casually
with shirt and trenchcoat, most take their costume seriously and keep
special robes for the purpose of performing magic.

It is also common for the Sorcerer to maintain a room in his house
specially consecrated for ritual magic. This sanctum will contain the
necessary paraphernalia for the magic – chalice, sword, cord and candle
will be evident. Sorcerers commonly have assistants, plucked from a wider
group of adherents because of one or two special qualities. These
qualities could be an aptitude for magic, a special trust between sorcerer
and assistant, a merely sexual relationship or something else.

Orthodox Sorcerers predominantly come from religious backgrounds either
from the clergy itself or from a particularly devout upbringing. This may
influence their later predilection for dressing up and performing grand
ceremonies.

A classical education is also a prerequisite in order to help them cope
with the esoteric literature and occult blinds so prevalent in the
subject. A background in psychology, egyptology or archaeology would be
obviously an advantage.

Olcott has been a member of the Aegyptian Order of the Everlasting Way for
the last twenty-five years. His official title is Grand Magister which
belies his actual status. He may not be a member of the inner circle but
his importance to the organisation is much greater than his apparently
lowly station. The AOEW pay him a monthly salary as a retainer for
consultancy work in addition to his other work as a touring authority on
egyptology.

In 1965 Olcott was an avid student of the occult and attended many of the
lectures around the country and on the continent in relation to this
subject. As he had few friends and his only real relationship had ended
several years before he fit right into a new more liberal culture proposed
by the pagan revivalists.

After a few years living in such a group, having taken his fill of
indulgence and nonsensical ritual, Olcott left the group and bought a
house in Ealing. He invited some of the more learned of his brethren to
live with him and create a college of learning in his cramped townhouse.

After a decade of honest research punctuated by behaviour reminiscent of
his youth, Olcott kicked the remainder of his colleagues out of his house
and initiated a vendetta that eventually caught the eye of the newspapers.
Olcott managed to distance himself from the fracas and from then on
cultivated the image of the beleaguered academic. From here, after his
fill of indulgence, things began to get interesting for him.
In truth he fell in with another cult. Olcott had always been
spectacularly bad at magical effects. He never seemed to achieve the right
state of mind that the others slipped into easily. Then again, the others
success was always measured in the most subtle of ways while Olcott placed
much higher demands upon himself. Magical expermentation within the new
group was much more structured. There were rules about what could be
called in and what could be cast out. There were regulations on binding
and prophecy. Because every night did not start out with attempts at magic
(usually followed by either a drugged orgy or a drunken depression), the
rituals began to have more meaning and correspondingly, an effect.

It was a frosty Thursday night when Olcott saw his first spirit.

Even he would admit that his faith in the process had been faltering
before he joined the AOEW. Their honest and open ways and utter dedication
to the study of magic inspired him and reaffirmed his flaccid faith. He
had settled into his seat (he was never comfortable in the lotus position
which may have contributed to his earlier failures) while his assistant
completed to preparations. Aftter two hours of feverish chanting nothing
seemed to have happened. Olcott lifted himself from his chair and only the
surprised gasp from his assistant alerted him. Inside the circle, where
the smoke from the incense brazier had drifted, was a churning smoky
zephyr. His assistant spoke in what seemed like a whisper. Perhaps a quiet
prayer. The spirit remained within the circle for the next few days as the
AOEW filed in and made their observations. At that time they had no way to
communicate with it and Olcott dedicated his time to researching how to
dismiss the presence.

The AOEW has reorganised. Rather than being an occult group trying to
contact “those-in-the-know” they have become an esoteric group who give
the impression they are in the know. They hold rituals no more than once a
week to a select group of initiates. Olcott has deliberately distanced
himself. Previously he was clinging to the ceremonial robes of those
within the AOEW but now he finds himself the advisor and realises he will
never again have to kowtow to a middle-class accountant in a
stars-and-moons bathrobe.

In Qabal:
This sort of character would be a magician with a fairly important
lineage. He will gather acolytes or a circle whom he treats as equals in
order to perform his magic. His predilection for pomp and requirement for
ceremony will mean that his magic will be quite specific to him and his
lineage. It also means that a considerable amount of preparation is
required for any magic to take place.

QABAL – a brief history of Magic

The beginning of time
In those days giants walked the earth and fought with the gods. Secrets were passed
from the gods to man through Thoth, Prometheus and Hermes Trismegistus – Secrets
of fire, science and magic.

350 BC
Plato describes Atlantis. It symbolises the origin of all knowledge. Believed to
be a myth, certain mystics claim it is a cipher for the location of the biblical
Eden. It has become apparent that there is a link between the ancient gods, Atlantis,
Eden and the biblical Flood that rid the earth of evil.

62 BC
Magi congregate at the court of Antiochus. They have foreseen a great conflict and
a divine peacemaker. The meeting is called to a sudden end after heated arguments
on how to deal with this matter. They depart undecided as to whether they should
welcome this new king or oppose him.

30 AD
Jesus of Nazareth, member of the Essene cult, is arrested and executed. Though he
was crucified by Roman hands it was the desire of his enemies, the Hebrew sorcerers,
that he die as a criminal. His chief disciple, Peter, defeats the sorcerer Simon
Magus in a magical duel and moves the cult of Christ into secrecy to avoid further
persecution.

685 AD
Khalid ibn Yazid, an arab prince, refuses his crown and leaves his court in order
to pursue his studies. He is taught by Morienus, a sorcerer and alchemist, but his
subsequent actions, purging his lands of other sects, have tainted his tradition
so that they are no longer known as holders of a secret wisdom but regarded as butchers.

930 AD
Sabbatai Donnolo unearths the hidden Sefir Yetsira or Book of Creation, a major work
of theology and also of magic and miracles. It is prolific during the Middle Ages
but later passes almost into the realm of myth. Whether or not the work is authentic,
passages from it survive and describe the magic used to create the earth.

1224 AD
A covenant is drawn up between two cults to ensure mutual protection til the end
of the millennium. In their desire to consolidate their agreement they alienate many
of the other cults extant at this time. Fortunately for them, most of these other
cults are destroyed by the fires of the Inquisition but some survive and remember
the betrayal.

1314 AD
Established in 1118 AD, the Knights Templar are destroyed on account of possessing
too much political and economic power. The charges brought upon them, however, were
idolatry and sedition.

1520 AD
In his key work De Occulta, Agrippa lays down his Unity of Traditions, a desire to
unite all religion. His intention was that his magical brethren should unite under
one purpose. His attempt fails but his works were widely distributed and have become
one of the main inspirations on magical thought.

1785 AD
Claude Louis, Count of Saint-Germain reappears to his pupil Etteila. Though his claim
that he is 325 years old is disputed, he surfaces several times in the next eighty
years. The last time he is seen is in 1875.

1850 AD
Eliphas Levi alleges Vintras and his Institute of Pity are an "absurd, anarchic
sect". This may have been true but it also has the effect of endearing Vintras
to Levi’s enemies. The depravity of the time also drew attention back to occult philosophy.
This was received with mixed blessings among the Masters.

1875 AD
The Great Purge Several Masters are slain along with hundreds of their followers.
Their groups were small and their followers weak so there were no retributions. This
highlights the encroaching end of the millennium and the end of the covenant and
thus an attempt to regulate the members of the covenant is made.

1900 AD
Crowley expelled from the Golden Dawn for ‘extreme practices’. He, and some of his
more loyal acolytes, form the Order of the Silver Star.

NOW
The Covenant is ending. An ancient alliance is ending. The future and untold riches
await those with knowledge and power enough to take it
 

 

I have a pretty strong stomach…

but this revolts me:

A BOY of seven was kept chained in a cellar by his cannibal family — as they ATE parts of him.
He had been partially skinned after monstrous mum Klara, 31, caged him for months while relatives who were also in a sick cult feasted on his raw flesh, an appalled judge heard yesterday.

What. The. Fuck.

What is this I’m feeling? Hatred? Revulsion? Disbelief? It’s certainly a righteous desire to punish. It’s cemented the fact that the only monsters in this world are people.

This was all because of some cult?

Collaboration, writing and vision

This weekend I was busy with family duties but still managed to do a bit of work on WoTW:Earth. Most notably taking the draft ideas Aidan sent through and turning them into mechanics and flavour.

Collaboration is hard.

I’m very conscious that I’m an ignorant so-and-so with strong opinions and a jeadstrong way of doing things. One sure-fire way to motivate me into completing something is to provide me with something that is not the way I’d do it. This isn’t to say that it’s wrong or that my way is actually better, but just the fact that it’s different is enough for me to work on something to illustrate my way.

Am I bloody minded enough to expect mine will be used? I’d like to think not but I think that even after all these years, I find it hard to work with others. Case in point: the lifepath systems we’re building for WotW: Earth can be done in a number of ways. I received Aidan’s notes and I wrote mine out and sent them on and I did say and will continue to say that it’s a work in progress. I don’t know, however, whether my personality (my bloodymindedness) can be put down by soliciting comment and inviting co-work. I’d have to get Aidan to be honest here about whether I am an ogre to work with.

Writing is hard

Harking back to the post on Quality of Play that I made the other day – I need to be very enthused by a game before I’d write for it (which is why I guess I don’t get paid to write – though I’ve never solicited paid writing work nor been asked). When enthused (the Solo Play part), I tend to be quite prolific and productive with writing which is why Crucible Design only published three games and they were the games that I conceived and wrote.

The irony of course is that my most productive times were when I was busy. I worked a 9-5, had a girlfriend, had a weekly game (or two) and would often have to do additional work at the weekends for my job. But I managed to hammer out The 23rd Letter. The next most productive person was Colin who had the job, the girlfriend, the hobbies and managed to do some excellent work on the Projects for The 23rd Letter. Everyone else was either in full time education (and no, it is not more work) or unemployed and getting writing out of them was impossible.

Vision is easy

What it tells me is that it’s easy to have a vision about something. It’s easy to think up a soundbite of a concept and pitch it at a small group of friends. You can wow them with some names you thought up, maybe even some basic sketches that are a subsititute for ‘real work’. The ‘Ideas’ page for LateGaming is incredibly long and I know that perhaps only 10% of them will ever have any real work done on them (and yeah, you can ask and no, they’re not all my ideas).

What this means is that in over five years of ‘writing’, we produced three books and they were the brainchild of (and written by) one person. We had plans for other books and games but none of them were ever completed and few of them got anywhere beyond the most basic concepts. Fancy playing a pirates game? We intended to write one (about 5 years before 7th Sea came out). Cowboys? Check. Corporate Superspies? Check. Commercially-minded Superheroes? Check. But I think that natural selection weeded out the weaker ideas.

The conclusion to this is going to be ‘What about Qabal?’

What about Qabal

It’s just a little too big for me and I need to get back into the flow of writing, raise the bar in terms of production values for the next books I bring out and re-learn a lot of terms. I need to ask friends who do design work for a living to help me with the look of the books and help me visualise the whole process. And all of this before I put any more pen to paper.

At the moment, I have smaller fish to fry.

What’s He Building In There?

Title taken from the Tom Waits track.


This blossomed into a scenario where the PCs were sent to investigate a murder. A newcomer to a quiet US suburb was found beaten to death in his home. The house is trashed. And no-one else in the suburb heard or saw anything…

Anyone else have done something similar? Created a scenario out of a song? (And let’s face it. this song is pretty much the entire inspiration for Desperate Housewives. Imagine the pitch – “It’s like that Tom Waits track….but with boobs!”

Man vs…

The topic of conversation this morning in the car was the substance of plots. Traditionally, we have plots which are Man versus Man (and yes, I intend to keep the male pronoun because anyone who would be sensitive to it likely has stopped reading a long time ago).

Man versus Man
This describes the quintessential struggle, the stuff of legend. Good versus evil, human versus alien, hero versus monster, rebel versus tyrant, civilised man versus the savage; the most accurate description might be the struggle between two directed intelligences. These games are easy to play because the adversary is present and real. They have motivations and malevolence. They are Hans Gruber to your John McLain, Lector to your Starling, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man to your Venkman.

We fight them because they represent the things that are wrong in this world, and they are flashy, obvious wrongs – whether they’re stealing millions of dollars with a funny accent, killing Gary Oldman or trashing Manhattan (although we’re unsure that killing Gary Oldman is a crime). We feel a sense of satisfaction seeing them put down (even if we know they may return).

Man versus Nature
Some of the best adventure stories are those told from the point of view of a single protagonist where his conflict lies not with the righting of wrongs or the marching of armies, but in the struggle against nature itself. Whether you’re weathering a Perfect Storm, trying to survive the Day After Tomorrow or even just making your way through a post-Zombie epidemic Dawn of the Dead, the environment you are in is challenging enough to make a compelling story.

One of the memes of Zombi, was that the walking dead were not your enemy, other people were your enemy. This was borne from every movie:- you can hide away in your fortress and the mindless zombie hordes can beat upon your door but it requires intelligence to breach your defenses. This isn’t to say that nature cannot be a harsh enemy. It is mindless but merciless. It can be witnessed when you travel from place to place, be it the cold of the snow-bound mountains, the drought of the desert or the cold emptiness of the vacuum.

Man versus Self
If religion is to be believed, we struggle with this every day. When we consider physical attraction, we encounter the most base ‘animal’ parts of ourselves. The acknowledgment that another human is attractive goes back to our pre-sentient days and when we continue on our way, we have successfully mastered the animal. This extends obviously to the personal wars against addiction, fetish, desire, greed, sloth and rage. We control ourselves and, as a result, these ideas are possible to play out in a game.

These were most recently examined in the World of Darkness games by White Wolf: I interpreted them as Lust (Vampire), Rage (Werewolf), Pride (Mage), Sloth (Changeling), Envy (Wraith). Though these games it was possible to spend a lot of time engaging in ‘versus self’ gaming as the player articulated the internal struggles of their personal demons. They are the Louis in LeStat, Hulk’s Banner, Star Wars’ Han Solo.

I bought a book today…

…entirely because it was illustrated and designed exactly the way I want Q to be paid out.

I spent a few minutes leafing through it and in my minds eye transposed the text and art to that which I envision for Q. Looking over my Q notes the other day reminded me of the parts I still needed to write though, to be honest, most of it is down somewhere or other.

Some of the notes I look over were definitely penned by someone else. Sure, it’s my handwriting but it doesn’t read like my writing. I guess some of the text there must be 10 years old or so and I was a different person then – and my understanding of some things has matured and so it needs re-written.

I’m always wary of games systems which report on the cover that they took 10 years to develop. Systems take minutes to develop, maybe hours to refine. Not years. It takes years maybe to write prose of the quality you might want. When I hear of a game that took 10 years to create, I always think that it’s going to be 10 years out of date. I mean, a decade ago we were playing Ars Magica, SLA Industries and Mage. I would hope to some degree the world had moved on a little.

Likewise when someone claims to have developed their game system from watching real fights or, (even less impressive, from years of studying fighting in the SCA,) then I have to work hard to keep the bile down. Does anyone really want to see “realistic” fight sequences? Is there any evidence to suggest that SCA fighting is any more realistic? I’m not convinced – but then there are very few people in Western Europe who have witnessed a real fight using swords and armour. When you’re fighting for your life you’re bound to respond differently to when you’re fighting to try to demonstrate a point about fighting. So – 10 years development and based on “real world data” – load of bollocks.

I did read an article in a RPG magazine which took data from shootouts at the Texas border between immigrant, smugglers and the border guard. It made for interesting reading – seems shooting someone is as effective as throwing a handful of stones at them though if one stone hits, there’s a massive chance of instant death. Anyone know the article? I think it might have been in Pyramid?

Back to the book…

So I bought it (and some word flashcards for my daughter). I’ll no doubt get time to read it tonight and then maybe break out my design apps later this week.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Watched it last night round with Aidan, Abi and some ice cream. It’s a good movie – personally I don’t think it’s the same sort of emotional tour-de-force as perhaps Fight Club or American History X or even Watership Down but it’s a good movie nonetheless. They manage skillfully remove a lot of the anticipation and wonder from the movie with what can only be described as fumbling with foreshadowing.

On other news – I left my three books of occult philosophy (trois libres de occulta philosophia) with Aidan to read and perhaps start to distill into something resembling a game that wouldn’t need me in the room if you wanted to run it.

r-Maps (and being ahead of the curve)

There’s a lot of talk of relationship maps.

I’ve been playing with the idea of an r-map for gaming for use as a player aid for a while. It really started to surface when playing superhero games in order to try and keep up with the number of NPCs and subplots that were going on. Later, in Ars Magica, it helped when we had troupe play in effect and every player had at least two characters. Otherwise I’d have gone insane. The thing about r-maps is that they depict the society around the character such as this r-map for NPCs in Amber. That said, I think an r-map showing only the public moods and behaviours would be entertaining.

Now…where was I. Yes.

In Qabal, an r-map was necessary for every player, because Qabal was all about troupe play. The first draft I did of this was circa 1996. I liked the imagery of it because the Tree of Life looked very much like a relationship map and I was quite pumped by that idea. Add to it a card-based mechanic inspired by Blackjack 🙂 using Tarot cards and you had what I thought would be a lot of fun. Likewise in the game currently known as “Illusion”, a relationship map is necessary for the PLAYER to keep track of his multiple characters and his relationships to them. How he perceived them. Same mechanic, standard playing cards but less connection to the Tree. But still a beezer idea.

The difference being that a character sheet then appears more like a series of circles with interconnecting lines and the content of each “circle” is the entire character sheet for that individual. For NPCs, they would be much less detailed obviously and tend to be around the edges until adopted by a player (see, another cool mechanic).

Systems

A posting on RPGnet asks us to describe our homebrew systems. I ended up describing mine thusly.

  • Maths-easy 2d6 comedy with either a manga/anime/mecha or zombie holocaust backdrop
  • Qualitative success using 0-3d10 to create a crunchy yet narrative system which can be considered both rules-lite and “a gun game” with a backdrop of psychic powers and government conspiracies dating back to the start of the 20th Century.
  • Card-based Blackjack-inspired mechanics with backdrop of both Stage Magic and Real Magic. Yes, that game. The one I’m infamous for not finishing…
  • [EDIT: Rules light, coarse skilled d6 mechanic – happy now?]

It’s a fun thread, some inspiring stuff in there.