The Bar at the Center of Existence

Imagine a world where something like this ACTUALLY MADE SENSE…

I would KILL for a setting where this makes sense. Fortunately, I have one.

There’s a lot of ways you could go with the material: time travel, meta-fictive, even recursions from Bruce Cordell’s The Strange. Forget about people meeting themselves, trippy as it is. I want to go in a different direction. Instead of those specific characters, think in terms of archetypes.

Imagine a place where a cyborg cop, a cyborg assassin, a dhampir, two psychic warrior-monks, several mob bosses, a godling from a dimension of agony, various alien races, a bad-ass martial artist, a robot, and nearly any other being imaginable could meet in a club and fight it out.

That is Storm Knights (and its predecessor, Torg), and in that game world something nearly exactly like this is possible. It is, in fact, the entire point of the game. (Plus, it allows you to add in elves, wizards, costumed super-powered heroes, paladins armed with the power of God, and much, much more.) And yes, there is a spot in the game world where a club EXACTLY like that exists.

I like it. I like it a lot.

*One* FAQ-ing Tank? [GiTO]

Q2: Only one tank in the whole continent of North America? How did that happen?

A2: Another chance to talk about Dakota. :)

Dakota has the only industrial manufacturing base in North America (and even that is pretty small-scale). If your car or truck isn’t a pre-Collapse relic, it’s made in one of hundreds of small factories. Each part is custom made from common blueprints, and the vehicles assembled one at a time by small groups of workers.

(They’ve been trying to expand, to build actual factories, but the vishloess and yisek (plus other problems of the Outlaw) constantly harry their forces, and it’s been difficult. Logistics are also a challenge.)

The one operating tank is part of a pilot project to build bigger, better armed vehicles for use against the threats from the north. They built three prototypes, to test manufacturing techniques and usefulness in the field. The only surviving prototype is based on the Soviet T-34. It’s cheap, rugged, has a pretty big main gun, and is easy to maintain.

The other two prototypes were a Panzer and Tiger, but the Panzer was too small for front-line deployment (it got gored in the engine, and sat in a field for six months before they could tow it back), and the Tiger had a couple of severe design flaws (it’s still sitting in a field somewhere on the other side of the Canadian border, having blown its engine).

(Yes, all the prototypes were WWII era vehicles: T-34, Panzer, Tiger. Dakotans can’t build the turbine engines that make Main Battle Tanks practical. US tanks from the era were sh… not as effective, so weren’t considered.)

The T-34 performed very well in field testing, so a few are under construction right now (as of 2039). This is crimping the industrial output of the region, and prices for Dakota made cars and trucks are rising.

Another FAQ-ing Post? [GiTO]

Okay, so not quite the last. Had a couple more FAQ-able questions come up, so there’s going to be a few more posts. (This and two others, it looks like.)

Q1: It’s a Western. Any cowboys?

A1: Actually, I’m really glad of this question, because it lets me blather on about a piece of the setting I didn’t get a chance to cover.

All your major states raise cattle, most obviously Texas and Utah. But the biggest beef industry in the Outlaw is Dakota. But not because of cows.

North of Dakota is a massive vortex that opens up to an ice continent somewhere in the Beyond. That continent has three main types of creatures: the gigantic armored Vishloess, the savage, furred Losiv (whom people call “yetis”), and the crystalline (and cold-based) insectile Yisek.

(The vortexes also dump a hell of a lot of cold into the atmosphere. It’s iceboxing eastern Canada, and playing hell with global weather patterns.)

Vishloess are gigantic (triceratops, up to brontosaurus), furred creatures with 4-8 limbs, massive, fanged maws, huge horns, and hard, bony plates. They’re mammals (or “mammals”, being as how Beyonder magic-based biology has, at best, a loose relationship to Earther biology). Some are herbivores, some carnivores, some lone hunters, some pack hunters, some herd animals, but all are good eatin’s.

They poured out of the vortex, into Dakota. Out of desperation, the Dakotas were forced to develop their manufacturing and oil industries, so they could make the fast, armored vehicles that fight the vishloess and the helicopters (the Dakota Sue, “that MASH helicopter”) that spot them. (They also built a rail network across the Blue Line, so they can ship vehicles, men, and materiel to where the latest incursion is.)

Picture Land Rovers and dune buggies four-wheeling across the terrain (armed with .50 cal machineguns and grenade launchers), herding a beast with judiciously applied explosions and bursts of gunfire. Rolling after are up-armored pickups and Land Rovers, ersatz APC’s, armed with harpoons. The smaller vehicles harry a furred beast the size of a tank, while the larger ones maneuver in for the kill.

Shoot, Boom!, and you drag back a huge carcass to the flatbed semis, for butchering in the local city. Dakotans are not in danger of starvation — there’s lots of meat. (Oh, yeah, and pelts. Thick, huge, gorgeous pelts.)

(Ecology? The same impossibly fast plant growth that covered Europe with dense, hostile forest. Small vishloess feed on it, larger vishloess feed on them. “It’s the cycle of life, Simba.”)

Films of vishloess hunts are popular across the Outlaw. Major personalities among the Fur Hunters are stars. These shows are shot not on video, but with actual film. (Kind of like Mutual of Omaha.)

Beef (er, “beef”) from these operations is sold across the continent. (Vishloess meat tastes like spicy beef, it’s a fatty meat as fat is needed to survive the cold seasons.) It, and Dakota’s wheat fields, feed Canada.

So, no cowboys, but vishloess wranglers do much the same thing, with ill-tempered furred, horned, fanged, gap-mawed, armored beasts the size of a tank. Or bigger.

The Last Three Talents [GiTO]

This is my last GiTO post for a long while. I’ve decided that, for now, it’s best to focus on ∞ Infinity, to get the system into a runnable state. So enjoy these last few tidbits of information about the Outlaw.

Augmentation – All people have chakras, where magical energies (called prana) pool. Shadow warriors tap into these energies and use them to augment their bodies, minds, and spirits. (Corresponding to the material, energetic, and ephemera elements.) This takes years of intense study with Prana Masters, and discipline far beyond that of mundane people.

Augments, in contrast, use technomagic devisements to achieve the same end. The devisements are implanted into their body, on the sites of the 5 chakras (the forehead, heart, liver, and both hands), and corral the prana energies therein, allowing the augment to duplicate the abilities of shadow warriors.

These devisements are made of hair-thin circuits, inlaid into the bone. They are, of course, powered with power taps, using firegold and frostsilver. (Theoretically, other paired enchanted metals could be used, like cold iron and searing lead, but searing lead is poisonous to the mage races and cold iron is poisonous to the three Shidhe races — fae, trolls, and wisps.)

Gunmages are a specific variety of augments, with powers oriented towards firearms. The best gunmages have also developed their enchanting Talent, allowing them to make magical firearms that operate as part of their body.

On both cases, the technologies of Earth work with the magical knowledge of the Beyond to create something neither world has ever seen before.

Spellcasting — This entry is, thankfully, short. Other than new spells — Tire Tear, to immobilize vehicles — spellcasting hasn’t changed at all on Earth. Earthers have made new Traditions, exploring magic in their own, ahem, unique ways, but the fundamental principles are exactly the same.

Technoshamanism — The Shadow World is the realm of the ephemera. It is unimaginably vast, and in it are an unknowable number of Shadow Realms and spirit beings. The Spirit Realms and the Shadow World are peopled by hundreds of thousands or millions of varieties of spirits, in numbers akin to the atoms in a galaxy.

It’s a big place. There are a lot of types of spirits. And a lot, a lot, a lot of individual spirits.

Some are selfish, others friendly and helpful. Some are great in power and grace, akin to angels, others great in malevolence, like unto demons. Some are indifferent to the material world, preferring their own Shadow Realms, and some are so alien, so incomprehensible, that they are inimical to life as we know it, just because of who they are.

Sorcerers are spirit masters. Their magical Talent is to sense the presence of spirits, in the material world or the Shadow World, and draw them to the sorcerer. There, they can negotiate bargains with them, or possibly compel the spirit to obey. Spirits can perform tasks for the sorcerer, or even grant them abilities beyond what mortals could normally achieve.

Spirits can leave the Shadow World and enter the material plane. There they can infest inanimate objects, or even possess animals and people. Sorcerers can expel those spirits, ejecting them back into the Shadow World.

On Earth, spirits can also possess machines. They can control the machine, as if it were their body, partially or completely. They can wreck the machine or just cause small malfunctions. (The weaker the spirit, the less it can accomplish.)

The reason airplanes are greatly shunned? A race of spirits who infest them and cause great calamities.

Technoshamans are focused on dealing with such spirits, exorcising machines or warding them against possession. Many couple their magical knowledge with technical skills as a driver and mechanic, so they can more readily differentiate between a normal malfunction and a lurking malform.

Just the FAQs [GiTO]

Second bout of questions, based on recent feedback.

Q3: Why “Atlantis”? Isn’t that overdone?
Q4: Why are the creatures and monsters of the Beyond so much like legends from our world?

A4: (Which also ties into Atlantis.) Usually, they’re not. The monsters and creatures of the Beyond are not exactly identical to our Earth legends and myths. Neither is Atlantis.

There are a great many Beyonder creatures that are completely novel (which I’ll get to sooner or later), and many Earth legends which don’t (yet) have Beyonder equivalents. So it’s not a 1-for-1 correspondence.

But mostly, it comes down to names. Names like “Atlantis”, “vampire”, or “dragon” are not Beyonder words, they’re English. These are not Beyonder names, not what Beyonders call that island, that monster, that nearly-unkillable, genius-level, dinosaur-sized, armored flying death machine.

They’re English names. When we saw something from the Beyond, we called it by a familiar name. Vampires, dragons, basilisks: if their monsters loosely resembled ours, we used our names. They’re not exactly like our legends, but were close enough.

The same holds for Atlantis. A strange continent that appears in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean will be called Atlantis, no matter what. It’s inevitable.

Last is the Previous Contact theory, currently in vogue among the more disreputable fringe mages. They claim there have been several prior contacts between the Earth and the Beyond, so many of our legends come from those prior contacts. There is no verifiable evidence such contact occurred (save for Beyonder claims that humans used to live on Atlantis), but the theory is romantic and appealing, and many people assume it’s true.

A3: Atlantis may be overdone, but there are good reasons for its inclusion.

  • It’s a great adventuring venue, offering adventure opportunities found nowhere else in the setting.
  • It hints at deeper aspects of the world, such as Previous Contact theory.
  • I needed something that would hint at an ancient link between the worlds, and an island continent convenient to North America (the main campaign setting) was a better solution than a hidden valley or lost city like Shangri-La.

As it stands, Atlantis is a key part of the setting, a dread and ominous place filled with empty buildings, treasure beyond imagining, and malign entities that chill the blood. It may be overdone, but I like it and I think it’s gonna stay.

(After all, everything’s overdone. Magic? Been there, done that. Sci-fi? Overplayed. Love stories? Blogger, please. We’ve seen all of that before, time and again, and Atlantis is no better. What matters is how well something’s done, not whether it’s been done. In my opinion, at least.)

FAQ’s of Life (and Death) [GiTO]

A couple of quick questions, based on some recent feedback.

Q1: Are the plague and the vortexes are somehow related?

A1: Induced Systemic Necrosis was an extremely odd disease. Researchers never identified a causal agent, and it spread in ways that are hard to explain in conventional epidemiological terms.

Could it have been a magical event, perhaps a curse? Maybe, but there is no proof of that, and the first known vortexes didn’t open up until a decade later. There is no known evidence of magic during that time.

Q2: Can’t you give me a straight answer? Why dance around the subject?

A2: Because you have been lied to, are being lied to, and will be lied to.

The campaign material presented thus far is a mix of truths, half-truths, omissions, and outright lies. It’s a technique I developed years ago. I call it “baked-in secrets”.

There are a lot of secrets in the campaign world, and I will not state them outright. I’ll present consequences of those secrets (so you can infer or deduce their existence), include qualifiers that suggest the material might not be perfectly accurate (“most people think”), make straight-faced claims that seem illogical or extremely unlikely (to suggest that other explanations might exist), but never state them outright.

I’ll lie, and tell you I’m lying, but never tell you the truth outright. (Except like once, in another venue.) Believe it or not, this is actually a good idea.

It has two benefits: players can discover what’s going on behind the scenes (a cool “solve the mystery” moment), and it’s easier for players and GM’s to roleplay the setting.

I found, a long time ago, that when the campaign material straight out tells you deep cosmological truths that no one in the entire setting knows, players and GM’s assume everyone knows it. Even if it’s impossible to know those truths, they assume everyone knows them, and judge the behavior of NPC’s by that knowledge.

“That’s so stupid! On pg. 76, the rules specifically say that’s impossible, so why is he even trying it?”

More, they tend to make plans in accordance with that secret knowledge.

If you never explicitly state those secrets, then this is never an issue. If you only give people what their characters (and NPC’s) could know, then the mysteries of the universe remain just that — mysteries. (Until the GM is ready to reveal them.) Some of these secrets I would reveal in time (during play of the campaign), others I would always keep secret.

And, even though “solve the mystery” has the smallest amount of space in this little essay, it’s the best reason to keep things secret. Players love it when mysteries suddenly make sense, even more so when they figured it out. And if that new knowledge allows them to accomplish great things, well heck, that’s just gravy.

Accordingly, nearly all of the material presented has been limited to what people in the campaign know, or could know. That’s why I use the phrase “so far as is known” or “it’s generally believed”. If a person in the setting doesn’t have the real truth, I haven’t told you the real truth. (That I can think of. Things may have slipped through.)

But those truths are there, and they have an effect on the material. You could, using hints and suggestions herein, make reasonable guesses as to what’s going on behind the scenes. (In many cases.)

I’ve tried to make a setting that makes sense. If it seems illogical or improbable, there’s a good chance that’s actually a clue about something deeper.

So, is the rotting plague connected with Emergence? Maybe, or maybe it was a very strange disease that we would have understood medically, had we enough time. If there is a deeply buried truth there, I’m not going to reveal it now.

Firegold and Frostsilver [GiTO]

The Beyond is a world of magic and the impossible. Under specific conditions, both heat and cold can be condensed into liquids. Enchanters can even create metals from super-concentrated forms of these liquids.

By applying additional heat to liquid heat (via a fire or burner), enchanters can create a super-concentrated form of it. (This process can take more or less time, depending on the heating source used.) Super-concentrated liquid heat is highly energetic, swirling furiously in its container and giving off light that is painful to look at. This state typically lasts for but a short time before the liquid heat burns through its container and explodes.

Enchanters can also create super-concentrated liquid cold, by slowly leaching away residual heat in the flask and the environment, lowering the temperature of the fluid’s surroundings. (An unpleasant process, as it requires them turning their workshop into an ice-box.) The absence of ambient heat allows the liquid cold to begin drawing cold energies to itself, concentrating them greatly.

At low enough temperatures, just above the crystallization point (which forms perfect ice), the liquid cold becomes super-concentrated. In this state it is quite thick, almost gelatinous, and the white strips become translucent. This is an unstable state, as the liquid cold is on the very verge of crystallization (which usually happens within a second or two).

While in their super-concentrated state, both fluids can be used to make metals with strange physical properties. A tiny mote of gold, introduced into the super-concentrated liquid heat, causes an instant reaction (much like dropping a salt crystal into a super-saturated water solution). Within moments, a lump of crystallized golden metal — firegold — precipitates out of the liquid heat, collecting on the bottom of the flask. (The liquid heat completely vanishes, being replaced with an equal volume of plasm, a watery substance made of spent magical energies. The plasm vanishes within a minute or two.)

A tiny mote of silver causes a similar reaction in the super-concentrated liquid cold. The liquid cold immediately desiccates, forming two powdery substances, thoroughly mixed together: plasm salt and frostsilver. Applying a small amount of heat causes the plasm salt to vanish, and applying even more heat melts the frostsilver.

Firegold and frostsilver are metals, nearly identical to their namesakes, save for an unusual coloration — red swirls for firegold and white bands for frostsilver. There is no known way of changing the metals back into heat or cold; once metallicized, they are simply metals.

As metals, they can be used to make jewelry or for any other use gold or silver could be put to. The two metals are infused with magic, however, and being magical, they have further applications beyond the mundane.

Technomancers use the metals to construct power taps, for use in powering devisements. A piece of firegold and frostsilver that are linked with appropriate wires generate a small amount of electrical current when placed against the skin of a person. This current is enough to sustain a small devisement indefinitely, without harming the individual in question. Technomancers use power taps in permanent devisements, obviating the need for another power source.

Devisements are in high demand, and so the procedure for creating and using firegold and frostsilver has become common among technomages, even though creating them is a tricky, involved, and hazardous process. Only the most skilled of enchanters or technomages can attempt it successfully, and none do so casually.

There are no shortcuts when creating firegold and frostsilver. Technomages have to use the same techniques, the same equipment, the same Talent as enchanters.

Technomagic is enchanting, in a different form. The same holds true for the other new forms of magic that arose on Earth. Each derive from an ancient Beyonder tradition that stretches back more than 10,000 years.