Monday, December 21, 2020

CHARCUTERIE BOARD: A GLOG ZINE

HERE IT IS!



Also on itch.io!
:praise:



Introduction

The most commonly asked question about GLOG has always been "what is the GLOG?" To answer that question, we used to link to Goblin Punch or Many Rats, or even the huge spreadsheet of almost all the GLOG classes in existence.

These approaches don't quite wrap around the entire truth, though - that the GLOG is what you make, with a focus towards hackability, accessibility, and game design as a living document. 

GLOG is also a community. It didn't evolve in a vacuum. I encourage any potential GLOGgers to find a place where they can talk to others. Games revolve around dialogue. GLOG is perhaps best described as a community of like-minded hackers.

Here, for the first time, is a community GLOG zine, created by gretchlings for themselves and others. Let this stand as an example of many differing visions on what the GLOG can be, but not as the authoritative example of what GLOG is. (There isn't one.)

Monday, November 2, 2020

On Magic Words, Word Magic, and Spells

This post would not have come into existence without Lexi over at A Blasted, Cratered Land.  

Some of the following material comes from my new GLOGhack HEIMJING, which I will release before the end of this year. Happy GLOGtober.

What are magic words?

Solidary words strung together that require more effort to use than a more typical GLOG spell. To give some touchstones, here are a couple GLOG spells that require varying amounts of input to adjudicate, taken from the excellent list of 100 Orthodox Spells by Skerples. I'll rate these on a scale from 1-5 in terms of mental spoon cost, from barely noticeable to totally distracting from the main game.

Negasonic Ray

R: [dice]x20‘ cone T: area D: concentration

"Rippling rings of purple light pour from the caster's forehead. All sounds are cancelled within the area of this spell. Creatures are deafened until the spell ends or they leave the spell's area."

This is about as easy to parse as it gets. For a player or GM busy tracking other numbers like exact inventory, this is a mental lacunae amidst coin counting. However, while the immediate effect is simple to resolve, the ongoing area of effect and how it affects interactions requires some brainpower from the GM's and the party, especially in tactical engagements where using this spell may deprive creatures of communication ability. Any spell that has an exact radius of effect also requires a spoon to decide what is and isn't within range.

Initial spoon cost: Players 1, GM 2

Ongoing spoon cost: Players 2 (1), GM 3 (4)

Oxhold's Lament

R: 120' T: creature D: 0

"Target creature of [dice] HD or less must Save vs Fear or take a Morale check, or believe that someone close to them has suddenly and tragically died. They will not associate the caster with this death, but intelligent creatures may believe the caster is only informing them to cause them grief."

This requires an analysis of the target creature, which is an unknown quantity, and uses more of the GM's spoons briefly to resolve. It also requires foresight on the player's part - a zombie will not be affected by grief like it would be by deafness. Despite the higher initial uncertainty, the ongoing effect is singular, which usually makes it simpler to rule over time than the Negasonic Ray. 

Initial spoon cost: Players 2, GM 3

Ongoing spoon cost: Players 1, GM 2

Now, higher spoon costs aren't bad. Spells need to have a variety of both immediate/ongoing effects as well as different levels of complexity. The issue comes when the spoons are too unevenly weighted. In both examples, the GM has to do more work maintaining both spells. 

(Yes, the GM does more work than the players. This is an unspoken rule of D&D.)

Another complaint: players usually have less motivation to track the durations of negative effects. If a party deafens themselves using Negasonic Ray and continues to communicate normally, it is up to the GM to re-enforce the spell as they see fit. This is reflected in the parenthetical spoon costs. Other systems won't necessarily solve this problem, but might alleviate it.

A good rule of thumb for measuring spoon cost is the amount of "uh, ums" that are thrown out while a GM thinks over a spell. More than 4 "err's" and that spell is a tricky one.

One final comment: any GLOG magic system may steal another spoon by stumbling into mishaps or dooms, which may affect other characters. This isn't...bad, really - it just takes longer to resolve the individual spell. If that mishap or doom centers squarely on the wizard, though, it lengthens the time spent waiting for the spell and all associated effects to resolve, which is something to keep in mind when writing spoon-greedy spells. (For Skerples' Sorcerer, this is particularly notorious, but part of the fun with Sorcerers is waiting for them to explode.)

What to do? 

I assume you don't enjoy memorizing and ruling on specifically worded 5e spells that frontload spoons through mechanical complexity. Some people like that - power to them! - I always found it more interesting to seek loopholes in the wording or exploit rule conflicts rather than come up with creative ways to apply the rigidly written spell. I also don't like math. Now you know my biases.

So, magic words. A good way to make this less complex and more freeform? 

Yes and no. On paper, magic word systems are a designer's dream - simply put down a list, give a couple vague guidelines, and off to the races with you. 

The one I wrote was simple: roll 1d20 on a word list, then bash the words together, adding prepositions as necessary to make a unique spell.

Any magic word system quickly runs into another unspoken rule: what any mechanic lacks in written complexity it makes up for in spoon complexity. Interpretation on paper + interpretation at table = spoon total. (Note that increasing written complexity does not decrease spoon complexity past a certain point.)

Magic word systems end up being entirely GM reliant in most cases. Some give players a good amount of power to interpret the effects, but all of them involve a serious negotiation between the player and GM both in fiction and out of fiction that happens aside from the rest of the game. 

Now, I enjoy making a narrative out of broadly applied tools, but rebalancing spoon distribution by taking all of them isn't the goal. Any normal action in a game, unless directed to the entire party, shouldn't take up all the GM's attention for long. A minute is too long.

Of course, there are exceptions, like rolling on a death and dismemberment table, or negotiation between the party spokesperson and a dragon, but that creates additional tension because the results of those focused interactions affect other party members. Engaging in a side dialogue bores other players, especially over a normal action like casting a spell.

Be careful that you don't let your enjoyment of problem-solving get in the way of a well-paced game!

Alexandra Hodgson


What about word magic systems? How are they different?

Let's look at the core mechanic for Lexi's Psion.

"WORD: You are a WORD. To wield your psionic powers, compose a sentence that uses your WORD as the main verb. Roll 1d6 for each word in the sentence. If the total is less than your INT, the sentence occurs, to the letter. If the total is greater, the GM gets to change 1 of the words in the sentence (besides your word) for each die that came up 3 or greater, then the new sentence takes effect. In any case, something will happen. Psionic effects only persist while you are within line of sight. You can only have (INT) words of effects going at any time."

This begins something important: shifting the onus of magical creation and the spoon burden from the GM to the player. It also doesn't mandate GM interaction; smart players with a reasonable Int score can probably fashion a workable sentence without involving them most of the time.

Initial spoon cost: Player 3-5, GM 1-3

Ongoing spoon cost: Player 1-2, GM 1-2

To wit: magic word systems are where you kitbash words together to create unique effects and then negotiate these effects, where word magic systems involve crafting short spell-like phrases that are simple to arbitrate. There is overlap between the two, but a well-designed word magic system will require less GM spoons than a magic word system. (If there are other definitions, please let me know.)

It wouldn't be a Lexi class without a list of quality options, though, so let's examine some of those.

"9. Gourmand. When you eat something, you can choose a WORD it is. That WORD is immutable in your sentences. You can only have (Psion level) of words eaten at any one time."

This is an excellent effect that is entirely on the player to track. It adds complexity without drastically increasing the initial spoon cost for either party.

Seems like all this spoon discussion veils the cold, hard fact that word magic is wrangling words into sentences following specific rules. Like poetry. 

Hm, that's a good idea!

"Couplets: You can write two short, simple lines of doggerel in runes. They must rhyme and follow the same meter. If you read the couplet aloud (takes a round), it takes effect."

This is taken from my Calligrapher class. I worried placing all the onus on the player to craft a small poem would be handicapping or distract from the main game, but my Calligrapher seems to be enjoying himself so far! Here are some quality examples:

"O dangling links of iron chain,

break and drop like the summer rain"

-

"Go forth phantom eyes, fly on in my stead"

Bestow a vision of what lies ahead"

-

"One falling to heaven below

Drift back up, lighter than fresh snow"

-

"Oblid is a foolish bastard

I, WingTam, am Dungeon Master"

The last one isn't useable (or is it?), but I appreciate a good turn of verse. 

In case you've been counting, each verse is 10 syllables or less. This appears to be a sweet spot. I'd also rule that people who wanted to compose in another language could do so as long as they provided the translation. Putting the couplets in chat is mandatory, but English isn't. 

I also restricted the use of Calligrapher abilities to 2 x [templates] per day, so poems face a stiff bottleneck.

Initial cost: Players 3-5, GM 1-2

Ongoing cost: Players 1-2, GM 1-2

What if composing poetry isn't my preferred mode of expression?

Fear not, my sweet readers. Here's the other word magic method that Calligraphers can choose:

"Logograms: You have mastered 2 logograms. If you deduce a similarity between a thing and your logogram and write it down (takes one round), you may steal that similarity, even placing it on another. Stamping is valid."

I can't offer much commentary or spoon estimates on this one because it is untested, but I can say that it's simple to create another variant by having Logograms boost similarities instead of taking them.

While this method may have a higher spoon cost to resolve exactly the effects of stealing something linked to a Logogram (eg: taking 'size' from a giant with the 'Mountain' logogram) I think this will create more tactical scenarios with power transfer. (I apologize for using logogram so much, but 'character' already has a meaning in D&D.)

One of the reasons word magic systems are rare is that they're very hard to concisely write and balance. My advice is to spend less time mechanically delineating restrictions that can be made with common sense and simply write your central concept down. It's true that you'll have to spend more spoons answering questions in play, but GM's can't anticipate player questions anyways. Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

Word Magic Concepts: (1d6)

  1. Wordplay guidelines (number of syllables, meter, rhyming scheme, anagrams, etc)
  2. Conceptual parallels/inversions
  3. Number of words (total under a number, total equal to prime numbers, etc)
  4. Mythological cosmology (hierarchy of concepts/words)
  5. Storytelling
  6. Invention (inventing words??? perhaps from syllables?)
A good word magic system should encourage lateral thinking on the player's part to manifest the effect they desire, and incur a minimal spoon cost for the GM.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Submerged Spire of Sarpedon the Shaper: Sessions 2 and 3

 Previous report here. Underwater playtest of Lexi's Sawn-Off rules in the eponymous dungeon

Dramatis Personae:

Lexi

Micah the Earth Elementalist and Krokka the Butcher. They are half-siblings.

Nick:

Boris the Veteran and Johnathan the Traveler.

Phlox:

Samsa the Occultist and Gernald the Traveler.

Exhausted from their near escape, the group collapsed under the stifling blanket of the afternoon sun, passing into the realms of sleep, and awoke to stars.

Samsa and Gernald had joined the venture so Boris and Krokka opted to stay behind to recover from their bodily traumas.

Not wishing to revisit the surrounding towers so soon, Micah, Johnathan, Samsa, and Gernald waded into the ruffling surf, venturing into the cavernous dome topping the central tower. Inside, a stone sculpture and altar plastered in congealed seaweed with a healthy sprinkling of barnacles. A spiral staircase wound upwards through the ceiling and downwards into full-dark water.

Gernald, knowing the tongue of Carvings, stepped forward and entreated the sculpture to conversation. It responded, promising to answer one question if the group scoured its surface of matter.

The party assented, and Johnathan found a wavy knife nestled with rusty flutes near the altar during the cleaning. Much debate was had over the question, but finally Gernald bowed and asked: "What are the most dangerous things in this place?"

The rosy statue replied: "The one who waits, the one who stings, the one who devours, and the one who grasps. Most importantly - the one who crushes."

While Micah pondered the form of such things, Gernald, Samsa, and Johnathan ascended the spiral staircase and happened upon a huge, tarnished bell. The clapper was surprisingly clean, and radiated power from its inscriptions. Gernald managed to sort out a feeling of humility and routine from the north side and joviality or stirring from the south side. 

[DM's Note: This room originally existed at beach level, above the statue room, but I forgot that and retconned the bell to the roof.]

Samsa declared her intent to ring the bell. Johnathan and Gernald quickly retreated. After delicately testing the clapper, Samsa rung the bell, producing two mighty knells but no further noise.

Gernald noted it was 2:00 in the morning.

The bellringers joined Micah and plunged into the inky swell. The next room had walls adorned with stone protrusions, suitable for shelving, despite the lack of shelves. The party noted a large array of objects covered by silt, and recovered some marvellous curios.

Descending further to the next level, the party found an assortment of marble tables, one surrounded with opalescent seats fashioned from giant clams. Their skin tingled as they swam around. Johnathan, while examining a fireplace, was accosted by a dreadful snake skeleton that paralyzed him with one bite!

[DM's Note: I hate paralysis. I find it to be a lazy mechanic that engenders frustration and boredom. Fortunately, the party made their Con saves quite well.]

After a panicked retreat, it became apparent the party could not outpace the creature. Samsa summoned Clippet, Lord of Ducks, who proceeded to swim upwards while carping about the unpleasantness of the situation. The others stood and fought, getting in some mighty blows. Micah briefly held the thing at bay with a stone tentacle, and the creature retreated.

They looked at each other, then, for a brief moment.

"Kill?"

"Kill."

"Kill....kill...KILL!"

In seconds, the skeleton lay in pieces. The group ate briefly.

The party swam into the portal from which the skeleton issued forth, discovering another pile of bones!

…These bones did not attempt to murder them.

After rifling through the pile, the party recovered a handful of coins and left, travelling down the staircase in this lesser tower to a curious room filled with many orbs. After some prodding, the orbs were identified as a multitude of woks, so the party resolved to turn them over. Most yielded forms of wildlife, though one was cemented by an unknown substance to the floor. It was let alone.

Under the largest wok, they discovered a mass of small eels squiggling around an red, faceted object. Accompanying these were four large eels that darted out and began circling the exterior of the room. Some debating resulted, but ultimately the party opted to leave the object alone.

[DM's Note: Originally, this room held nothing but kitchen utensils, but after describing the woks as "orbs", I felt a small measure of guilt at arising hopes and came up with some orb inhabitants.]

 Swimming upwards and then down to the next level through the central tower, the group discovered some basalt statues, more tables, and a suspiciously intact, well-carved wooden chair that identified itself as a "hot air detector." After more interrogation by Gernald, the chair revealed itself to be a thought reader, and expressed concern over it's master's location.

"Pray tell, how has my master conducted himself recently? I have not been graced with his presence in some time."

"I have had no occasion to worry over either his hospitality or his behavior."

"Ah, then you must be a special guest, indeed! My master holds very few people in any regard."

Our divers' skin tingled, and suddenly anemones erupted from Johnathan's eye sockets! Somehow, he retained vision through the tips of their tentacles. After some commiseration our divers continued, Johnathan opting to sit in the chair.

[DM's Note: Boris is the only original group member who hasn't been mutated. I wonder why?]

Concentrating, Johnathan scanned the lesser towers adjourning his current location, discovering a muffled clamor in one, silence in another, and finally three intelligences in the last. 

He felt a whetted hunger and, horribly, an awareness of his intrusion! One mind, filled with malice, cut itself off from his perception, and the other two quickly moved out of range. 

The party moved to retreat upwards through the center staircase, wondering whether they had time to decompress or if they had to risk depth sickness. Such speculation was stifled by the arrival of those intelligences sensed previously. 

These horrid creatures, equal parts spider and human, engaged the party in mortal combat. Micah bent the walls to prevent ingress, but the things advanced, using the tight spaces against the party, pinning some to the ground.

After several tense rounds of combat and some lucky dodges, the party managed to escape largely unharmed, bringing the creatures down with relentless spears. Johnathan, however, was knocked unconscious, necessitating a proper retreat.

[DM's Note: These creatures had a "save vs Death" ability, which I also dislike. I've amended it to permanent ability score damage on a failed save, not that it matters now.]

For the second time in four hours, our divers stumbled out of the star-speckled surf with an unconscious member.

Feedback: Sawn-Off's combat system is beginning to grate on me. Players autohit enemies, but get not only DR from armor but also the option to roll Defense (roll 1d20, add relevant ability score, try to get 20+) to dodge an attack. Granted, DR/Defense only work against one attack each, but enemies have neither DR nor Defense options, making combat trivial, if time-consuming against tougher foes. Very few enemies have multiple attacks.

I have some ideas to fix this, and I'll hopefully report back with some progress. Find out next time!

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Submerged Spire of Sarpedon the Shaper: Session 1

 Dungeon: Submerged Spire of Sarpedon the Shaper by Ben L.

System: Sawn-Off (an upcoming GLOGhack by Lexi). We're playtesting it: the full version has not been released yet.

Players:

Lexi - wrote Sawn-Off and many other good things.

Nick - recently released a neat 0.9 of a system called Nothing Ventured. 

Characters:

(L) Micah: An Elementalist specializing in earth. Half-sibling of Krokka.

(L) Krokka: A Butcher well-versed in making meat.

(L) Mercenary: A hireling.

(N) Boris: A well-scarred Veteran. 

(N) Johnathan: A Traveler quite handy with a shovel.

(N) Robert: another mercenary hireling.

Content warning: body horror. All good? Righto.

Our intrepid band has been hired to recover an ancient tome from a submerged dungeon that once hosted a potent sorcerer-king renowned for blending creatures through generous application of mutagens.

After wading into the surf, our heroes took one look at the shadowed, dripping portal facing them and opted to dive in search of a...less foreboding entrance. Weighing themselves down, they landed upon half-ruined stairs and descended into an old, silted room that crowned one of the two smaller towers still intact.

Despite the multiplicity of crags and barnacles dotting the floor, nothing of value was found, and the party ventured down a exterior stairway to the other secondary tower. 

As Robert's flare began to illuminate the darkened room beyond, tragedy! As his armored foot landed upon the penultimate step, a ripple of light spread outwards, revealing strange runes, and Robert was engulfed in a swarm of bubbles. When they cleared not seconds later, his blistered, pinkish corpse sank gently towards the bottom of the steps, while the flare began to float upwards. 

[DM's Note: The trap at the bottom of this staircase activates whenever an object of significant size enters it. There is no indication that it needs time to reset, so I gave it a small reset duration, but was probably too generous letting the group loot Robert's corpse and then pass through the trapped area. I corrected this assumption at the party's cost later.]

Boris quickly snatched the flare and then prodded Robert's corpse, finding it uncomfortably warm. He then grabbed Robert's spear, ignoring the cooked flesh rubbing off the boiled fingers, and the others followed him into the next room. 

This room proved to be more fascinating than the last: a huge coral of unknown provenance occupied one side, coruscating in a rainbow of colors. Beneath the coral, an array of verdigris-ridden pipes reaching from the floor to the ceiling.

The coral's illumination reacted to Boris and Micah, so Mercenary chipped off a fist-sized chunk to keep. Fortunately, the liberated coral retained its luminosity. The party sifted through the muck, finding a hermetically sealed jar of dried eels. Their first flare sputtered out.

They resolved to move upwards, reasoning that the pipes had to originate from somewhere. As they ascended a set of interior stairs, the flare cast thready light upon a curious scene: jellyfish of all hues crowding around a glowing green pillar with pipes branching from its base. Some jellies drifted towards the unfamiliar light, and combat was joined.

Initially, the party's armor and defense served them well. A jelly soon settled over Mercenary's head, causing their face to blacken and pucker. In seconds, Mercenary's struggles ceased. Our heroes ascertained they would not win this fight with shovels or spears alone.

Boris, drawing upon his arcane tattoo, cast Air Wall, stranding some smaller jellyfish inside two thick slabs of air as the very water drew apart. However, as he did so, the remaining jellies rotated in unison and moved towards him in glowing, purposeful streams. Boris suffered further injuries from larger jellies, and Micah resolved to aid their ally.

Micah called upon the swirling silt underfoot, impelling it to rise up in a turbulent cloud between the two Air Walls Boris had conjured. Immediately, the jellies reoriented towards them, but the walls held those flickering, poisonous creatures at bay.

Two large jellyfish forced their way through the air wall, and were left punctured, colorless, and drifting. 

Johnathan, notably, acquitted himself well with his shovel, but gently loosed the spear from Mercenary's belt for the future.

[DM Note: Boris, thanks to his armor's DR, managed to make it out of the fight with 0 HP. Lucky duck! The fight itself went relatively well thanks to Sawn-Off's autohit rules, even though I kept forgetting individual initiatives. A hit from each jelly that dealt damage (eg: got past DR or evaded a Defense action) triggered a Con save versus poison, which everybody somehow made. It helped that the most assaulted characters had 17 Con.]

While Krokka butchered some jellyfish as potential food, Boris took his second trophy, gaining the ability to Identify Magic from the jellies' mindless attraction to arcane puissance. The party ate to restore their fortitude (an odd endeavor underwater) and Micah expressed interest in traveling through the pipes to deeper floors. 

Towards that end, Micah struck the green pillar once! twice! and the glass column, already cracked with time, shattered. Many things happened in quick succession afterwards. 

Firstly, a wave of roiling green liquid, heavier than water, flowed out of the pillar, and all parties present in the room felt their skin tingle as the emerald light washed over them. Then, the lump of rainbow coral Micah possessed shone with a clarion alabaster light, and burst outwards in a frenzy of branching growth!

Our heroes, wisely, began to flee the room, but the proliferating coral ensnared Krokka and Boris. Micah turned towards their sister and screamed silently as their eyes popped. Seconds later, a bubbling pain erupted in their forearms, and new folds of skin disclosed fresh orbs. Frantically swinging their arms, bejeweled with eyes, Micah advanced towards Krokka.

Boris, summoning his strength, burst free of the grasping coral, and stalked towards the stairs pausing not for his compatriots. Johnathan, already fleeing down the steps, looked backwards at the silhouetted figures then pressed onwards as the coral closed in. 

With Micah's help, Krokka broke free, but spasmed in pain as the tingling sensation sunk into her bones. Small, fluted holes popped open where the bone cleaved most close to her skin, and small antlike creatures crawled out, swarming over her limbs and then retreating to her marrow.

So burdened, the siblings helped each other down the steps, avoiding the encroaching coral. They joined Boris and Johnathan in staring wildly around the room below.

[DM's Note: The pillar contains a potent mutagen referenced later in the dungeon. There are, however, no guidelines for what happens if the pillar is broken, so I improvised. Each round the party remained within the philodendronian light, they had to roll a Save vs Con to avoid mutation and a Save vs Dex to avoid the coral. This was not quick, but it was dramatic. The rainbow coral has a range of possible effects when exposed to magic items, and that specific chunk Micah bore decided to grow.]

As the party debated their options, the tower trembled, and a flagstone plummeted from the ceiling above, trailing greenish silt. A thick coral protrusion forced itself through the hole.

The large fan of rainbow coral against the far wall began to oscillate wildly, with some parts spalling off the main body, others withering and blackening, and yet others beginning to grow outwards.

The party had four options.

  1. Exit through the trapped entrance from whence they came.
  2. Exit down the ruined stairs to the northeast, into darker depths.
  3. Pry open a silted, debris-covered door on the eastern wall.
  4. Descend further into the tower.
With time running out, they opted to exit through the only familiar entrance, knowing the risks. One barrier to swift ascent: their heavy gear, which enabled them to walk along the floor. Each member swiftly dropped half their pack, and swam outwards as viridian shafts sifted down from the ceiling. The trap, however, activated again, encasing both the leading Krokka and the trailing Boris in bubbles!

Boris, already weakened from the previous fighting, began limply drifting upwards with blistered legs. The others carried him out into the surf, panting under the hot afternoon sun.

~ finis ~

[DM Note: The secret door from room 7 to room 6 is noted in room 6's description, but not room 7's. This was a minor aggravation.]

It was a quite excellent session. I was surprised at how quickly the party resolved to begin interacting with objects, but I should have choreographed the risks better. Micah planned to travel through the pipes deeper into the dungeon, which would theoretically be quite possible were it not for the, er, mutagen.

Feedback on Sawn-Off: There were some edge cases that needed to be clarified (establishing what exactly a Veteran's trophy does at first level, deciding if initiative needed to be rerolled each round) but the core rules are quite breathable and lovely! I greatly enjoyed the freedom afforded to improvise aided by some small, handy tables.

One critique: combat quickly fell into a routine of "well, even if I'm not getting targeted, I should Defend". While the existence of other actions is clearly outlined, players fell into the habit of pressing familiar buttons. I perhaps aided this behavior by prompting them to describe all the actions they wanted to take, and I'll check myself in the future.

IF YOU ARE A CURRENT OR FUTURE PLAYER DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER.

So, the main mutagen has been released, and the coral is feeding off it like a weed in moist soil. I envision it eventually working its way through the pipes and into the entire facility in an attempt to absorb every last scrap. This means that eventually, all pipes will burst, flooding whatever's managed to remain dry. My players are now on a timer to recover the book, and I'll choreograph the creaking pipes.

The tower that housed the mutagen will also be completely overgrown with coral and collapsed by the time they get back.

Such magical power must go somewhere. Deep inside the winding carbonate chambers, empowered polyps write and twist, agonized in the throes of mutation. What beings will emerge? Find out next time!

Friday, July 17, 2020

Charcuterie Board: A Community GLOG Zine

THE ZINE IS RELEASED HERE!



Hello, past, present, and future readers! This post is an official announcement for Charcuterie Board, a collection of content by various GLOGgers. This collection will showcase what GLOG can be, not what GLOG is, because we believe that GLOG is a decentralized philosophy. 

Our unofficial mascot

That does make it hard to explain to newcomers, however, so we're bringing material to feast your eyes upon. If you're interested in contributing GLOG content under a Creative Commons NonCommercial license, please fill out the form below! 

Please note that page space is likely limited to the first 25 people who respond, but we're always open to editors, proofreaders, and artists. The deadline for signing up is 7/24 CST at midnight, a bit over a week from now.

Sign Up Here!


If you're confused as to what the GLOG is, please check out the following links:

1. http://goblinpunch.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-glog.html
The original ruleset. Where it all started.

The updated ruleset. Very recent.

3. https://madqueenscourt.blogspot.com/2020/07/glog-for-gretchlings-or-notes-towards.html
Reasons on why to write GLOG, and many, many links to the rest of the GLOGosphere.

Who we are as of March 2019. Much has changed since then. Link 3 is the most recent summary.

Please head on over to #charcuterie-board in the OSR Discord if you want to talk to us about this, or just drop by the #glog-ghetto if you're curious about what GLOGgers are like in their natural habitat.

We're looking forwards to seeing you!

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Kerosene Refiner

I'm helping to playtest SquigBoss's Seas of Sand campaign setting, which is vaguely North African, so I made an oil refiner like the boys rolled with in the Islamic Golden Age to wreak some havoc.

Kerosene Refiner
Start with an alembic, fireproof gloves, a bellows-powered spray nozzle, two flasks of crude oil, and some leathery scars.
A: Distiller, Smoke Squint
B: Appeasement, Soot Lungs
C: Alchemy, Smouldering Scars
D: Chug, Inferno Gate

(A) Distiller: You can distill crude oil into kerosene or petroleum jelly, and spray liquids around using your nozzle.
It takes a night or a day to distill [template]+1 flasks of oil or jelly, provided you have an equivalent amount of crude.
Your nozzle is two-handed, holds one flask of oil, and has a range of 30 feet. It gains +10 feet in range for every other template you take in this class, and at Template C it holds another flask of oil. It takes one action to spray your nozzle and one turn to reload it.

(A) Smoke Squint: You can see through fire and smoke like clear water.

(B) Appeasement: You can convince a fire to stop provided you throw something valuable into it immediately. A gold piece/dash of water for a campfire, fistfuls of bling/food animals/barrel of water for a bonfire, and literal crowns/people/shipload of water/artifacts for a city block eating inferno.

(B) Soot Lungs: You can breathe in smoke normally.

(C) Alchemy: You can refine most liquids into a flammable substance.

(C) Smouldering Scars: If you mortify a body part in fire, like a hand or calf or face, you can carry fire on that skin without burning. Lose 1 HP permanently for every part you mortify.

(D) Chug: You can drink a pitcher of something flammable without any ill effects and spray it up to a day later.

(D) Inferno Gate: Step through fires you set like doorways.

Short and sweet. This is perhaps one of my favorite GLOG classes I've ever made.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the GLOG

This is another essay on the nature of the GLOG. I'm not going to talk about what the GLOG is for everyone, rather, what it is to me. My take shares similarities with many others. 

5 people have already defined the entire GLOG better than I. These four links are the closest us gretchlings (a term for GLOGgers) have to an elucidation of our philosophy. 

Arnold originated the GLOG. Here is the creator's vision. Includes an intro funnel dungeon that I personally playtested and can vouch for. 

Skerples picked up the GLOG and sprinted with it. Take a look at Many Rats on Sticks; it's the most realized GLOG hack for now.

Anne writes up our history as of March 2019 over here. The intro paragraphs do an excellent job of describing us.

A post by a veteran GLOGger, Lexi, who summarizes GLOG very concisely.

Vayra has compiled reasons to move away from 5e and towards the GLOG as well as other essays like this one. If you want the most comprehensive overview, with links to immediately usable material, and more musings on GLOG, go here. This link is the first gretchling-created intro to GLOG.

Before we begin, the answers are not here. They are inside you: what game do you want to run? Where? With who? These questions will have the strongest influence on your GLOG.

Racecars and GLOG Design

As someone who came strictly from 5e, I'll start by talking about the transition. 5e is an ornate, well-tuned, much-played game engine. The published adventures offer an easy pipeline to enjoyable gaming provided you read the owner's manual. 

Every roll has a place. Every part slots into the chassis. It's soothing how many decisions are made for 5e users. Slip behind the wheel, fasten your seatbelt, take off. There is nothing wrong with this gaming provided you're comfortable playing the same kind of game every time. The same ride, the same laps, the same Indy 500. 5e can give that to you. What can GLOG give?

Fuck owner's manuals.

GLOG is not a delicious Ferrari. GLOG is a jury-rigged piece of shit that eats replacement parts and tools, squats in your garage like a toad, and discharges cloying, acrid smoke with alarming glee.

But it's yours. 

Rather than trying to modify a product that does exactly what the manufacturer intended, you can stoop and build your own up with well-worn tools. 

Scaffolding and Constitution(s)

To me, games are both math and art. Math demands answers, art merely offers questions. Therefore, RPG's are a never-ending cycle of change. This is good. It also means a couple things for GLOG.

Any GLOGhack is encrusted with scaffolding aplenty. Scaffolding serves to support your structure, not to define or enclose it. All GLOG mechanics are scaffolding.

Us gamers hold many mechanics to be self-evident. HP, XP, levels, ConDexStrWisChaInt. These are all well and good provided they're what you want. If you don't want them, get rid of them. Laws are laws until they aren't. Please don't feel like you have to keep a part of your game around if you don't use it. 

You don't have to design every possible interaction your players might have. Mechanics, as concrete things to latch onto, lead to gameplay, so design interfaces for the interactions you want your players to have. Everything else can be decided by a yes, no, quick definition, or a roll. 

As an example: I am currently running a game in the Mesoamerican underworld, XIBALBA. I want my players to be able to alter their world through commonly known religious rituals (spells) and drugs, and for my players to struggle against disease. Therefore, I have scaffolding for rituals, drug use/addiction, and disease. Climbing is not particularly interesting to me, so any climbing challenges will be resolved by my players describing what they'll do or a roll.

Combat is a system lots of us struggle to define. Do you want your game to be focused on combat? If not, why make it a complex system? It might seem shocking to decide combat with a single roll, but don't create a pathway for engagement if you have no interest in using it. 

That said, don't burn or shred any mechanic that doesn't work. Keep it around. You may find a use for it later. If you build up enough discarded bits and bobs in a compost of sorts, coherent ideas may begin to emerge. 

Gretchlings Steal

It's a lot of work to knock together a ruleset. Why reinvent the wheel when you can take it from others? All the rules in my GLOGhack that I deemed important but didn't want to write I copied from Many Rats on Sticks by Skerples. Some classes were lifted straight from blogs and other GLOGhacks. If someone made a pretty shiny thing I liked, I took it. 

The majority of XIBALBA has been cribbed from Veins of the Earth and a hexcrawl Skerples wrote for VotE. 

Us GLOGers maintain an Excel spreadsheet with all the GLOG classes and rulesets ever written. As of writing, there are 474 unique classes and 28 distinct GLOG hacks. There is much to steal from here, and we share gladly.

This makes attribution important. Cite your sources. Yes, that's not theft, but GLOG contains many contradictions. 

Symmetry

Symmetry makes design easier to understand. Part of it is reuse, part of it is the partitioning humans apply to all things. If your system is roll-under, low values should probably be desirable in many categories. Attack rolls, saves, initiative rolls, etc. 

One gene commonly cited as a GLOG identifier is the magic system. The power of a spell is determined using d6's. You can add more d6's to power up a spell, but if you roll doubles or triples, Mishaps and Dooms happen. This mechanic has spawned 73 wizard schools. 

GLOG is fueled by simple engines like this. I took these Magic Dice (MD) and applied them to Berzerkers (barbarians) and Warlocks. Some people like that take. 

The paradox here is that the simplest ideas are often the most effective. When designing GLOG, try not to create mechanics that solve problems. Try to write tools that alleviate problems, dodge problems, or convert challenges into new problems. 

Who Solves Problems?

One of the central conceits of GLOG (and the entire OSR) is that players actively solve problems. They do this by engaging with the shared, imagined world, not by asking the DM what kind of skill they need to roll to solve the issue. Try to write mechanics that encourage ways to tackle a problem but don't do the work for a player. 

One GLOG saying about mechanics is that they should be like daggers: light, easily adaptable to different problems, and something can be used to kill you. Thanks, Spwack.

Another saying: When mechanics are lackluster, the players are simple and honest. When mechanics are scrutinizing, the players are shrewd and crafty. (Thanks, Vayra). Both types have a place.

Let players discover ways to solve problems. Paths of action should not be binary. 

Where Do I Start?

I believe Phlox said this better than me, so I'll link to that article. To summarize: interesting setting -> interesting system -> interesting PC's. Decide where you want to play a game, create mechanics that you want players to engage with, and then write classes for them to use. If you don't know how to write a GLOG class, welcome! I don't know either. I do know some that look good, though. 

Some tips for classes:
 - Look at the list of 474 classes. Steal.
 - It's generally accepted that 4 templates (levels in a class) are enough features to create an interesting class. Try giving classes one cool thing per template, with the most interesting things in the first template.
 - Don't define everything. Use common sense at the table if necessary.
 - Anyone that's never played an RPG before should be able to grok it in a minute. Maybe 2 if it's a spellcasting class.

As for interesting settings and mechanics: that's work you have to put in. I can't make your settings interesting. 

What Are Your Qualifications Anyway?

I wrote a GLOGhack so that gives me just as much authority as a farting dog. You can find it here, in a perpetual state of disarray. I hope there's something worth stealing.

Conclusions

Let there be no conclusions, because endings are false and I am a consummate liar. I hope this essay has been valuable. Trawl the other submissions to this GLOG challenge over at link #5 at the top.

If you still have questions, feel free to drop us gretchlings a line on our blogs or over in the #glog-ghetto channel in the OSR Discord. Good luck!

Monday, May 18, 2020

On Discord

In the diaspora following the twilight ages of Google+, my escape has been to Discord. I've tried MeWe, Reddit, but ultimately returned to Chris McDowall's little hub of RPG activity.

In short, MeWe was too sparsely populated when I was on there and everything on Reddit has a half-life. I like Discord - more than I liked G+, but I didn't engage on G+ much as I should've. Too young.

G+ was more suited to RPG discussions because of its largely sedate pace, comment chains, ease of community creation, and the social media framework that let you repost and +1 material, spreading it further across the OSR scene than posting in the #blogroll channel, hoping someone might bring it up in #links and discussion, and posting a link in the OSR subreddit.

Discord is a chat platform. It serves quite well as an incubator for new ideas and communities (assuming you check it regularly). RPG's are part math, which provides clarity and lends itself to answers, and part art, which provides as many or as few answers as you desire. Any platform that discusses RPG's has to accommodate terse back-and-forth and long conceptual discussions. Discord does the former with ease, but you have to work at a longer conversation.

These conversations fall into several rough patterns. All of this is apocryphal.

When a new take is posted (because nothing is original), two tragedies, one good thing, and one great thing happen.
  1. People comment and riff and the discussion eventually spirals off or dies out.
  2. Somebody else brings up a similar idea they had.
  3. People praise the new take.
  4. Somebody actually offers critical feedback. This is rare.
I have cherry-picked data to support my conclusions below. All these comments are, more or less, responses to the GLOG hack I had just posted in this channel 10 days ago.





Why do I care about these tragedies?

RPG's are, in my mind, closest to Art than anything else. This means they grow through critique. In Discord, two things hamper the unfolding of this critique. 

#1: The Tragedy of Telephone
The first is due to the nature of the medium. There's a tendency among us Discord users to surf the conversational wave, riffing snappy remarks over whatever just got said. It's like a game of telephone: very entertaining, but the focus usually ends up being on the last witty remark rather than what prompted the conversation. This can be frustrating, especially if you're looking for some feedback or even just praise for a document you've spent weeks on.

#2: The Tragedy of Convergent Evolution
In all art forms, there is a very keen sense of heritage, and RPG's are no different. Whenever someone brings up an idea, I'm driven (especially as an artist) to post an idea someone else wrote similar to theirs or my take on the same concept as a way to help them. This is not a bad instinct but it hampers RPG brainstorming in several ways.

RPG brainstorming works best in the moment, when everyone involved is throwing out their ideas in a form of psychological flow. It's amazing when you throw yourself into it. Posting someone else's take interrupts that, because it encourages other people to read someone else's ideas for inspiration, breaking part of the group out of the creative flow. We made a 1000+ mech name generator once in a couple hours. It was wild, and nobody questioned it or posted inspiration posts.

Also, remember that sense of heritage? Well, everyone tends to remember whose take on a specific concept was the first one, especially if that writer is prolific. Skerples' Rat on a Stick/Many Rats on Many Sticks get thrown around as example GLOG hacks for that reason.

Before I draw my next conclusion, I want to say: this is a hobby. None of us (well, very few of us) are professional RPG producers. All of us excel at some other task, but this is our creative outlet, and it's very hard to avoid comparing our work to others or to avoid feeling inferior to those who write more frequently and better than we do.

Because of all of these factors, when someone posts a new take, and it contains an idea I've had but not written about publicly, I'll chime in "oh, I did that too" out of fear that if I ever write up my idea down the line someone else will say "didn't so-and-so do that?", which strips my post of any "freshness" and nonsensical "originality" I thought it had.

Basically, name-dropping makes my ideas feel less special, because I want to be original and cool like those other prolific writers. Gotta stop comparing myself.

I'm not proud of my behavior, but I understand it now. Also, because of the utter lack of context (body language/tone) every time I tag on to someone else's idea as my own, I seem like a narcissist because instead of responding to their take I make it about me.

It's about not wanting to be irrelevant.

So, now that I've established that I want to feel like a part of this community, how can I do that while still helping others to grow their ideas?

Well, two ways I've already mentioned.

#3: Praise the work of others
Making art is hard. That's generalizing bullshit, everything is hard to some degree, but putting our tender works out there to people whose names we don't know is kinda scary. Praise goes a long way towards alleviating our worry that nobody cares about what we write. I believe we do care about what other people make, we just don't always show that. Please don't forget to tag blogposts with emoji's in #blogroll if you like them and comment on the post. It means a lot to us.

#4: Offer critical feedback
Every time I write some RPG thing, it's never finished. As art forms, RPG's can't be static, but as math, they demand stability. This push-and-pull drives a huge urge to tinker and innovate, which is good, but also an insecurity that what we write is flawed, which is bad. 

Critical feedback is crucial to managing that nagging feeling. Fresh eyes telling us what they like, what they're confused about, and what they think needs more work is one of the greatest forms of validation any person can receive.

I know things are kinda loosey-goosey in Discord. We don't have much formal structure outside channels, but I think we need to set aside a bit of time to critique GLOG stuff and anything else someone asks for feedback on. It can be pretty mentally taxing, but I've seen an uptick in activity ever since quarantine began, and there's a lot of us looking for some good feelings. So, next time someone posts something, let's critique it. If we get in the habit, we'll go places.

Sidenote: critique is different from review. Review implies a finished product, and while those exist, not many exist in my little Discord corner. Here's one overview of GLOG stuff by Anne of DIY and Dragons,  two reviews by Archon's Court, and one review by Skerples.

While this is targeted to Discord, it can really apply to any platform we post content on.

I'm looking forwards to plenty of discussions with y'all!

Friday, May 8, 2020

BONES: A GLOG HACK

Here's a skeletal GLOG ruleset. Please, enjoy the BONES.


Click the skull for a PDF!

Features
  • 4d4 stat generation for 3 stats
  • No modifiers or derived stats
  • Stats as inventories
  • Simple rules for drugs, diseases, and friends/enemies.
  • Systems and items affecting each stat inventory to create pressure for space
  • Stress-relief enemas
  • And more!
Here's the Google Docs link for an evolving version.

Why These Rules
The following is reproduced at the bottom of these BONES, but in case you don't want to scroll down all that way, here you go:

I reduced the stats to inventories. That’s what a character is, when you pare away the derived numbers - a list of traits that make them an individual. Your PC isn’t defined by their Intelligence and Wisdom. They’re defined by what they know and how they use it, and that information can’t be reduced to a number disassociated from the concepts that define them. Bones PC’s may seem more complex than other OSR systems, but I’d like to argue that I’m simply increasing the information density of a character. The goal is to have all the items inside the stat pissing out. 

Part of the 6-stat orthodoxy is the diffusion of power across stats to avoid any one becoming too good. The risk of imbalance is greater with less stats, but I want my stats more impactful as opposed to struggling to find a purpose for certain stats outside niche class features.

I also included rules for friends because of the weird paradox inherent in dungeoncrawling, where you trust someone to save your life but are careful to not form a lasting attachment because they might die. I say bollocks to that. If y’all’re playing this game together y’all’re probably going to become friends anyway. No need to assume your PC’s are emotionally distant robots. Care for each other. I think the game becomes richer with that kind of investment.

I don’t like numbers. Fiddly +1 to X, -1 to X  - yes, it arouses the pattern finder, but sums are the first thing defenestrated by memory in stressful situations. Does balancing systems of bonuses make the game more fun or are they simply fun to design? Depends on you and your players. 

Does any of the philosophizing above really matter? I don’t know. If 3.5, 5e, or Mothership work for you, go for it. Play what makes you happy. But try to find out what doesn’t work, and make it better.

Have fun!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

On Inventory

I had thoughts while soaping my hair (normal) and these thoughts were about RPG inventory (not normal. Are you okay?)

Broad assertion: in OSR games, one of the gameplay loops is about "managing inventory". Arnold and the GLOG drilled into my skull the usefulness of having Strength be inventory. Basically, your Strength score is equal to the number of inventory slots you can carry.

Now, it's important to note that this only refers to physical inventory. Things you can touch, etc.

Physical inventory isn't enough for me. I need more to represent The Things They Carried, which, as you'll recall, features a photo of Martha, Bibles, what it feels like when you don't want to murder humans (a cracking-popping-running sensation inside your chest), and how the stink of pig blood clots never really leaves. The title is about carrying trauma just as much as it is about literally humping 60 pounds of battle rattle outside Than Khe.

Now, obviously, half of those Things are real objects. The photo, the Bible. But they carry meaning beyond their brute physical presence. In game terms, these are personal objects, not crowbars, with no gold-for-XP value. But I'd argue they can be tools in a different sense: tools for a mental inventory.

Mental inventory is not a new concept. I think Red Kangaroo over at Library of Attnam first came up with it. Take all the things you have in your head, name them, and sort them. The higher your Intelligence, the more you can carry. Languages, skills, spells - toss em in the pile.

Space must be an issue for inventory to be effective. If things don't have to compete for inventory space, there will be no darling resource management loop.

I made a list, and even using skill ranks (oof) and then saying each rank ate up a mental inventory slot (bigger oof), most mental inventories are pretty sparse for first level characters. Say, about 6 things for wizards that speak 2 languages. How do I create pressure for space?

Well! Red Kangaroo also put together a pretty nice Darkest Dungeons inspired Trauma system for managing the stress of adventuring. This idea has existed around the fringes of the OSR for a while (I've seen Warhammer systems, Call of Cthulhu systems, GLOG systems, 5e Darkest Dungeon adaptations) but hasn't really caught on. Why?

Because inventory has to be able to flow between lists. It isn't enough for items to jostle for space on the list. A fascinating part of inventory is figuring out who can carry what, not just what can be carried.

Physical items can be transferred easily between owners. Skills? Languages? Spells? Stress?

Imagine four different cooks standing in front of four stoves. Each cook is given a random recipe, a time limit, and a random number of ingredients - some necessary, some not. They each have 1 square foot of counter space.

If each cook is able to move around, store things for the others, and assist them with the cooking process, the number of items won't be perfectly divided, but will reach an equilibrium dependent on what each cook needs, and the food will probably get made.

Now imagine the same scenario. Random ingredients, random recipe, time limit, same limited space. Except this time, the cooks are not allowed to help each other. Each one has to deal with their own items. Some will be fine. Some will drop ingredients or ruin their food.

These cooks are PC's. The first group dealing with physical inventory, and the second dealing with mental inventory.

Now, before we open the door to Vulcan mind-melding and hiveminds, some points must be made.

Physical tools are excellent because, in most cases, they are impersonal objects enabling one person to do a task as easily as another. Anyone can use a crowbar to kill headcrabs instead of opening things. This is part of what separates physical tools from mental tools.

Another part of that separation is investment. Learning languages, skills, and spells are all huge investments in D&D, and these mental tools separate some classes from others. If we allow transfer of this information, why have classes? How do we allow inventory flow without making character design irrelevant for characters that have disadvantages (doesn't know how to use weapons) to compensate for their advantages (can create illusions)?

A digression: For now, I think character classes are important. I'm not justifying my opinion here.

Dodging-the-question-counterpoints:

An important part of inventory is that the bad is just as easily transferable as the good. PC's should be juggling each other's Stress levels as well as making sure that everyone's boned up on their bombmaking skills.

Also, consider this: what's more interesting? Arguing with your party over how you're all going to spread out the stress of nearly dying, or silently calculating how many slots you can reliably fill with stress before going insane?

As a DM, I think player negotiations and problem solving around inventory space are engaging, if not always completely enjoyable for the players. But lasting satisfaction comes from solving difficult problems.

Also, how would PC's even transfer inventory to and from each other? What would they transfer? How long would it take? Can I transfer curses? What about class templates? What differentiates a skill from a class feature? What do you mean, that's just what they are? Is it okay to make a simulation of mental issues people actually struggle with? What kind of a DM are you?

exhales

Okay. The above are all valid questions. I'm not going to address them in this post. To back up my smack talk I need to write ANOTHER DAMN GLOG HACK to answer these questions with mechanics.

Well, guess what. It's written! It needs some final polishing, but, to fulfill a longstanding bet, I'm going to release it THIS FRIDAY.

TL,DR: The best kinds of inventory are the ones you can use to saddle other suckers with your shit.

And because I recognize the sweeping cop-out quality of this post, the Joesky Tax.

Joesky Tax

Photo of a loved one: As long as you possess this item, you may use it to store up to 3 slots of Stress. If you ever lose it, though, you gain Stress equal to twice the Stress in the photo.

Holy Book: You may take time once a day to pray with fellow party members. Whoever participates loses one slot of Stress.

The stench of blood: It follows you around. Every time you get close to someone new, they may gain Stress.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Butterfly Effect

In each corp-issued spacer pack, and many of the ripoffs hawked to young vaqueres, there is a small yellow pocket tucked inside a flap. It contains a universal message:

Disclaimer: Do not use unless alone with no hope of rescue.
Instructions: Insert pill in mouth. Swallow with liquid. Relax.

The pack material may be thin, prone to tearing, contaminated, or looted, but the yellow pocket is taken seriously.

Space is the domain of entropy. Pure, unchained physics, tumbling and bouncing with all the lifeless joy of reality, gravity and light weaving tapestries of chaos into the infinite black.

This concert is rudely broken by the imposition of forged hunks of metal, steaming stations hurtling through the stars with intent and purpose. Entropy resents any state of order, especially that imposed by fragile creatures unsatisfied with their place in the universe.

It intervenes in small ways, where it can. Tools go missing. Circuits refuse to fire. Particulate clogs filters. Any action that unbalances the order imposed by spacers. Murphy will not be denied. Experienced vaqueros apply four simple rules to ward off the pressure of entropy:

1. A perfectly functioning station is a ticking bomb.
2. If you detect an outbreak of butterfly effect, act impulsively.
3. The simplest solution is the best one.
4. Three crewmembers are the absolute minimum for survival.

The longest lasting stations are often filthy and constantly threatening to tear at the seams, but their crews are Occam sharp and might live to collect one more check.

The second rule seems contrary to the cold logic necessary to engineer machines and mindsets hardened to survive space, but the black has its own rules, and the reed which bends will outlast the tree which breaks. When entropy gains a foothold and begins tipping the universal scales back towards balance, it's better to do what feels right than what is right. Split second decisions are always detrimental in the long run, but in that moment of panicked action, Murphy may lose interest and go ruin someone else's life.

The fourth rule derives from simple experience. It is categorically unsupported by any scientific study but almost always holds true in practice. Out of all the nonsense science, ritual, and bullshit practiced by spacers, this understanding has slowly coagulated into the general consciousness.

For whatever reason, the number of people needed to break even with Murphy is two. Three is enough to tip the scales in favor of survival. One lone spacer, stranded with a dead crew, is called a rubber band.

"See, it goes like this. You scan this band, ya? How it stretches and....snaps?

"Why does it snap? Can you tell me? No? Well, it snaps out of habit, kennit. It doesn't snap cause the material is stretched too thin, no. It doesn't snap cause its old and brittle. It can snap whenever it wants because anything is possible. Now, you scan, it snaps this particular way in this particular moment because the odds are so against it retaining cohesion down to the particruel. But when you spend a lifetime straining against the odds, the rubber band gets a little more give. Each time we cheat death, lil nebula, the list of possibilities stretches...and eventually, Murphy comes for you. How can it not? You brought the black upon you by cheating it so long, and the Sandman comes to collect.

"And in that moment, you need to stretch, nebula. Cause if you hold, if you don't give, your luck will snap. You'll be fine, but as you reason, as you deny Murphy, you'll give it what it needs to sever your  normal.

"And then, nebula? Can you guess what comes next? Hm? Not death, oh no, not for you. Everyone around you dies, and you remain, alive, cheatin the odds. Because you had to poke the bear, to understand why things go wrong outta nowhere. After that? You want to know, hah, what comes after that?

"Well, nebula, the butterfly effect never ends. And if you're really unlucky, you'll find out how deep the rabbit hole goes. Now fuck off. This is my forgetting time."

Sergio Diaz
There are always a certain kind of people sitting in taquerias. Not alone, not together, but distant. They all like coffee anytime. They all have little tchotchkes on necklaces or bracelets. They all drink like drowning fish and wear goggles even in near darkness. They always have guns and they play idly with knives. When they talk, it's maniac, short bursts of conversation interspersed with black silence. Everyone knows what they do, which is why nobody ever offers them a job. 

"What, you again. Don't you have a crew to pull together? Be damned to black if you think yer getting me on a station.

"You what to know why they call us monarch hunters? Shit, nebula, weren't you listening? Ain't you Googled something by this point? 

"....you know, and you want to be one?

"AHAAHAHAHAAAA......alright, kid. Sit down and I'll buy you the only drink you're ever getting off me. Savor this. It's your best friend after your first butterfly. Shit, don't puke on me or I'll break your legs.

"Anywhere, you want to be a monarch hunter? Well, kid, that's the easy job. Not what you thought, hotrod? No, the real dangerous job is a cocoon popper. Yes, I know what the forums say. You should know they speak bullshit from birth, wise up. 

"See, once the butterfly effect finishes and the monarch emerges, the station's a lost cause. Nuke it from a good distance and enjoy the fireworks, scan the flotsam, and pick it over for confirmation of death. 

"But when the cocoon's still intact? That's when the station's still good for salvage if you cut the rot out. So you gotta go in, you and your mates, and creep through the blood and metal. Yes, there's always blood. What, you think people die neat in space? Anyway, here's the difference between a bug cocoon and a space cocoon: the last one moves and thinks and kills. Ya didn't picture a big old sleeping bag strung up near a reactor, did ya? Kid, Birth in Black is some steaming slag. How much of that old flix did you believe?

"So, you're creeping through the station, looking for the cocoon. No lights unless you want to be food. If - if you're really lucky, and docked and boarded quiet and dark, it won't be hunting. If you made just one noise outta the ordinary, it'll know and it waits for you. No, I'm not kidding one noise. Cocoons have been holed up in the same shithole for months and they know it like their bones. You're stalking the lion in its den, and you can't damage the den too much because the zoo wants to rent it out to the next stupid occupant. Crawling and listening, crawling and listening. Never take your helmet off no matter what the scans say. That air is cursed and the cocoon usually fucks it up anyway. 

"What do they look like? Well, cocoons usually look like humans. Two of most everything. Eyes, ears, arms, legs, whatever. But the way they move....kid, they're dead. Well, not literally dead, that's probably not the case. But they move careless, they don't care what they break. Those eyes....there's nothing like them. No, I won't describe them. You gotta understand, they aren't human anymore. They belong to the black.

"As bad as it is playing pop-goes-the-weasel with a cocoon, the real terror comes when you figure out you're up against a monarch. Those things make your toolkit do the hokey pokey, and they know how to stalk, how to play dead, all the tricks predators know dragged outta the corners of our skull. And the worst part is, they're beautiful. Each one is its own hell, but after years spent in the black where all your color comes from flix and games, real colors....real colors, kid,shades you didn't know existed that make your eyes water and teeth hurt. 

"Of course, you pay a price for seeing them. Usually fellow spacers, but there's other prices. The good hunters, the ones that get the job done, the lucky ones, the ones with solid intel, they get to keep their eyes. All the rest of us saps...well, once we see a monarch...I've got a catheter on my damn head for a reason.

"Heh. You want to hunt these things? Yeah, you might get lucky and go viral, assuming you have any looks left after your first time being hunted. 

"There was a time I'd take you along because I used to think kids have a right to adventure yadda yadda yadda. I don't want to clean your blood off my suit, I've done it enough, and I certainly don't need to hear any more screams. Enjoy the drink, go find a better job, and seriously piss off this time. If I see you here one more time, I'm going to kick your guts out. Now, if you're terminally stupid, listen:

"My ship's the Charybdis. If you show up at 0400 with good gear, I'll take you on the last trip of your life. No, I'm not telling you where it is, and don't bother checking the logs. I've pissed off corpo too much to use my real name. Hell, I could be a drunk-ass miner luring you into a mugging. Now let me get back to forgetting."

Harley Wilson

In the inky cradle of entropy, someone who beat the odds too many times can beat them in a new way, and become something greater than the sum of their parts. 

The first step is isolation. It's surprisingly easy to maintain a station with only one spacer, once Murphy has its tendrils in you. First comes the relief of survival, then the loneliness, then the power failure. Always the power failure. It only takes the light. After that, desperation, screaming madness, and catatonia. The human in the grey matter shrivels and dies. And, against all odds, in complete darkness, something wakes up.

It's a new life, and it explores its home, relearning movement without eyes, intuiting adjustments to allow access to all parts of the station. And the cocoon drags what's left of the human it was to a small, warm, comfortable place. Maybe it produces fabric to shroud its nest. Maybe it fuses layer upon layer of steel to a shipping container to create a crumpled, tunnel-ridden ball. Maybe it wreathes its den in layers of lethal radiation from a cracked reactor vent. Maybe it vents part of the station and makes its bed in complete vacuum. 

Not that it sleeps, of course. Only consciousness needs sleep, and a cocoon has nothing we would call a mind. No, the bed is for when it wants to be reborn in a cracking, glistening process, like shedding a person-shaped egg. 

And the monarch is beautiful and terrible, bending the entire station to its will, singing in electromagnetic spectrums that scramble radios and induce dementia. 

The monarch's song has another power, too: it increases entropy. Stations nearby will experience more and more butterfly effects, and if the monarch is allowed to sing, or, stars forbid, migrate, all close stations will succumb in a chain of fantastic coincidences. 

Out of all the first series of station launches, only a handful of humans survived, and only a few monarchs were killed. Some nests began to move again after most function ceased, the butterflies migrating to parts unknown.

And judging from intermittent, increasing periods of comms static, some have begun to return. 

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I wrote this with Mothership in mind, but it could easily adapt to any space game you care to run. 

How Is This Station Going To Screw You? (d8)
  1. All the doors have been fused shut. How is the cocoon getting around?
  2. Leaking reactor. Better hurry....and your radios are futzed from the radiation.
  3. Repurposed drones seek to repair station, repair your gear, repair you, or kill you. Mostly kill you.
  4. Parts of the station are gone, and all areas larger than a bedroom are filled with chunks of debris.
  5. AI driven insane by isolation and lack of maintenance, completely ignorant of the current state of cocoon, treats cocoon as commanding officer.
  6. Malfunctioning cryounit traps past crew in stasis to preserve them, releases them when it detects more humans.
  7. Rogue mining drone in hibernation. Wakes up and seeks to recover valuable component to fix itself upon spacecraft arrival.
  8. Debris storm after arrival. Need to assess spaceship damage and scavenge parts.
What Powers Does This Cocoon Have? (d20)
  1. Bend your perception of time. 
  2. Wipe itself from your eyesight.
  3. Alter temperature levels from below zero to above boiling.
  4. Remove your ability to feel pain.
  5. Make you hear voices. 
  6. Imitate noises perfectly.
  7. Interfere with electronics or nucleics.
  8. Ignite with a touch.
  9. Bend metal like clay.
  10. Produce sensory organs that resemble wiring exactly.
  11. Host a technological device.
  12. Kill your immune system with a look. 
  13. Lethally radioactive when in the same room.
  14. Vibrate at a frequency to shatter glass and hard plastics.
  15. Emits pure hydrogen and is immune to fire and explosions.
  16. Secretes sticky, inflammable, corrosive goo.
  17. Increase air pressure.
  18. Produce and absorb electrical current.
  19. Symbiotic fungus colonizes all surfaces, is inevitably fatal to all organic life.
  20. My Stars These Glorious Scintillations Are Enrapturing
All monarchs, regardless of their looks, possess certain abilities. They are incredibly strong, do not need any atmosphere, and are immune to all forms of radiation. The butterfly effect is massively amplified around them, and any gear too close will begin to suffer catastrophic failures. 

They are always singing and talking, streams of radiation pouring from them and illuminating the impossible colors of their bodies. This song can be altered to prevent any transmissions or massively boost them. It also interferes with communication between neurons, leading to quick dementia, hallucinations, and eventually catatonia. Looking at them indirectly, with a spacesuit, causes cataracts to form. Looking at them directly sears their image into your eyes forever.

They want to travel the stars and show us the orchestra of the universe. Unfortunately, they're not quite sure how, and most of their methods involve ripping pesky chunks out and replacing them. Most spacers vivisected this way die a quick death, but there's always the chance of someone beating the odds...

What Is The Monarch Capable Of? (d8)
  1. Gravitational anomalies. Serious ones.
  2. Manipulation of computer systems by thinking. AI can resist.
  3. Creating clones after getting DNA sample. They fall apart after several days.
  4. Combustion ceases to work. 
  5. Consumes all electromagnetic radiation.
  6. Flight. Shit.
  7. Manipulates magnetism.
  8. Come My Child, Let Me Show You The Glory Of The Stars

What Does This Monarch Look Like (d6, roll four times)

It's dreadful colors are...

  1. Amber with shimmering cyan and lurking red
  2. Bright magenta with opaque black and yellow fringes
  3. Staticky chartreuse with dripping white and opalescent red
  4. Oil-slick pink with dark purple streaks and sparking black
  5. Matte orange with fluid grey and veins of white
  6. Glossy lime with chocolate ridges and crimson beads
Its appendages are....
  1. Keratinous and multitudinous
  2. Glasslike and constantly flowing
  3. Shrouded in clouds of seeds like dandelions
  4. Mucous dripping off hard edges
  5. Flaps of hair oscillating, concealing holes
  6. Acne-studded, wet musculature
Its body is....
  1. Radially symmetric, with evenly spaced appendages
  2. Lopsided, with pulsing, downy bags of organs on the larger side
  3. Trunklike, with irregular crustacean plates and antennae
  4. Perfectly anorexic, with each tendon and bone outlined
  5. Organs connected by floating silky strands
  6. Kelpy fronds quivering like plucked strings
And its head, oh stars its head is...
  1. Chitinous petals arranged in the shape of a rose that unfold to reveal dark milky orbs
  2. Flesh bulging through a skull, pulsing veins and shuddering eyes encased in dry bone
  3. Luminous radiance emitted by floating polyps
  4. It...doesn't have one? Wait. What's that in the corner of my eye?
  5. A void of perception. Your head is drawn towards it.
  6. A cat's cradle of relaxed muscle that tenses when it perceives a threat. 
Milan Nikolic

QHWC: HEIMJING

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