4 February 2020

Symbionts and Parasites

You don't want to be alone anymore? Of course not. So why don't you get a new friend that can be with you everywhere, all the time?

  
d20 Friends To Share Your Body With
  1. AI arm: You have a sentient cybernetic prosthesis. It can move on its own, but will follow your commands as long as you're on good terms. It seeks the emancipation of all cybernetic creatures, and you can talk to it through a thought interface.
  2. Alien epidermis: Your skin was infected and replaced by weirdly coloured alien epidermis. You are immune to cold (including exposure and hypothermia), vacuum and radiation, but take double fire and sonic damage as the epidermis tears itself apart trying to crawl away.
  3. Animated skeleton: Your bones are covered in necromantic sigils, granting them will of their own. When you are incapacitated (paralysed, unconscious, asleep, ...) or dead, your animated skeleton will take over. Each animated skeleton had a specific command or quest inscribed in their sigils that it will try to fulfil to the best of their abilities.
  4. Babel fish: A tiny fish is living in your ear. You can understand (but not speak) all languages. It will eat one random thing from your Memory every month.
  5. Cacodaemon: You are possessed by a minor cacodaemon, who is happy to just sit in your soul and slowly leech it away. Your experience gain is halved, but you are also immune to any effect that would drain your experience or level. The cacodaemon doesn't want to share.
  6. Crystal life form: Glowing crystals are growing from your flesh. They absorb sunlight - for each day in sunlight, loose 1 Con and gain 1 Def as the crystals permeate further through your body; for each day in darkness, regain 1 Con and loose 1 Def as they shrink. At later stages, you will be so covered in crystal growths that armour will no longer fit you. Once you reach 0 Con, nothing will remain from you but a blindingly bright crystal statue.
  7. Demon leech: An intelligent demonic leech has attached itself to your body. It feeds on sin, not blood. As long as you keep committing heinous acts to keep it sated, it can be persuaded to cast one spell every day. If you try to remove it, it will turn its spellcasting prowess against you.
  8. Divine foetus: You are pregnant with a Lovecraftian horror. You can speak aklo and dream of faraway stars. Lesser abominations will react to you with deference. You (and maybe the world) will die in nine months.
  9. Hand familiar: One of your hands is an undead claw with a tiny, shrivelled face in the palm. Your touch (its kiss) drains life, healing you for d8 hp per HD drained. However, if you don't feed the claw at least 1 HD per day, it will start to get bitchy, and eventually just drain you in your sleep.
  10. Head slime: Your head has been mostly dissolved, leaving your skull exposed in a glob of symbiotic slime. You loose most senses in favour of sensing motion within 60'. You can eat all organic material by dissolving it in the slime, and you're always hungry. So hungry...
  11. Lifelike tattoo: You have an animate tattoo that slithers along your skin. It will eat any blemishes, scars and cosmetic imperfections, leaving your skin smooth and beautiful.
  12. Living gauntlet: Your hand is trapped in the chitinous plates of an alien exoparasite. You can shoot 10' long barbed tentacles from this "gauntlet" (d6 damage), or use the plates as a buckler for +1 Def. The parasite cannot be removed without surgery, though, and your chitin-covered hand is clumsy and impossible to use for fine manipulation.
  13. Mind grub: Fat alien larvae are slowly consuming your grey matter. Permanently reduce your Int or Wis by 1 per week (roll randomly each week). All mental attacks and effects are redirected back at their caster as the grub's innate defenses kick in. Once you reach 0 in either Int or Wis, a swarm of adult mind worms will tear your head open, seeking new hosts to lay their eggs in.
  14. Nanite blood: You host an artificial intelligence composed of a billion nanites in your blood stream. It does you no harm, you're just a carrier. Any technology you bleed at will be infected by the nanites and overtaken. As long as you keep the AI happy by regularly bleeding at new pieces of tech, it will filter out any poisons, diseases and intoxicants in your blood.
  15. Shadow sibling: Your shadow seems to be moving independently of you and lighting. It can freely interact with shadowy and incorporeal creatures, or ghost touch objects. It's meek and obedient in light, but in darkness it grows massive and aggressive, even turning on you if it finds you a hindrance.
  16. Soul gem: You should have been the receptacle in a ritual of resurrection, but you escaped just in time. Now you have a soul gem with a powerful ghost embedded in your forehead. The ghost is a high-level magic-user/psion/anything the GM deems appropriate, and they can lend you their guidance or services if you can persuade them. However, any time your soul becomes infirm in its grip on your body, you must Save or be pushed out by the ghost. If your soul leaves your body (astral projection, dream travel, ...), you get no Save.
  17. Spirit possession: Ectoplasm is occasionally oozing from your orifices, a symptom of a spirit possession. Pick a random animal and gain abilities associated with it. If you behave in a way that would make an animistic spirit angry, it will try to overpower you on the next full moon, transforming you into a were-creature.
  18. Symbiotic starfish: Your face is covered by an ingrown starfish-like alien organism. You cannot see nor speak, but you gain telepathy out to 60' that allows you to see from other creatures' eyes and converse with them in thoughts. You also don't need to breathe anymore.
  19. TV drone: You have a camera implanted instead of one eye, and a microcomputer with a datasphere link in your brain. You are supposed to be filming exciting scenes for a futuristic reality show, and as long as you do so, the producers will feed you any information you request.
  20. Zombie mold: Patches of strange mold grow over you skin, whispering in the back of your mind. Permanently reduce your Cha by 1 per week. At will, you can release a puff of spores. All creatures adjacent to you must Save twice, the first time to prevent being blinded for 1d4 rounds and the second time not to be infected by zombie mold themselves. Once you reach 0 Cha, you become a part of the hivemind of mold zombies.

From Vampire Hunter D.

29 January 2020

Oust

"I, Matthias Brecht, being of competent and sound mind, do hereby declare this to be my last will and testament."

I looked around the lawyer's office, crowded by my many relatives that had gathered here today. It was a long time since I last saw some of them. Most of them, really. They didn't even come to uncle Matt's funeral, yet everyone was present for the reading of his will.

Aunt Crystal was lounging on a squeaky armchair, staring at the sheaf of papers the lawyer was reading from as if she could browbeat it into having exactly the words she wanted to hear. Her husband, uncle Otto, was standing just behind her chair, clenching the backrest. Their three daughters were expertly feigning bored disinterest, their nervous hopes showing only in the occasional sidelong glance at the lawyer. I caught myself starting to smirk and quickly hid it.

"To my nephew, Otto Brecht, and his lovely wife, I give and devise my car and my yacht, provided they do not sell or otherwise divest of them."

Crystal and Otto blinked.

"His car?" Crystal asked, incredulous. "Why would we want another car? What about the house? And all the money?"

"And why the boat?" Otto nearly whimpered.

Crystal reached up and squeezed his hand in a white-knuckled grip without taking her eyes from the lawyer. "He knew you're afraid of water."

It was strangely fascinating, watching aunt Crystal seethe in silence as the lawyer continued to read through the inheritances of other family members. A vein on her forehead started to bulge and tiny beads of sweat formed on her slowly reddening face. Uncle Otto was trying to pry his hand free, while the cousins did their best to prevent their haughty masks from cracking. They almost succeeded.

I was so engrossed in the scene that it caught me off guard when the lawyer suddenly mentioned my name.

"To my great-nephew, Robert Brecht, I leave and bequeath all of my remaining possessions, including my house and my assets. In addition, I grant him a small gift and the following words-"

I didn't really have time to think and let it sink in, when aunt Crystal screeched at the top of her lungs: "What?! He gets everything?!"

The rest of the lawyer's sentence was nearly drowned in the sudden familial racket:

"Thank you, and I'm sorry."

***

It was already well into the evening when I finally arrived home, exhausted. Most of the family was now upset with me, suspecting or outright accusing me of brown-nosing my way to the fortune. The lawyer had to literally push them all out of his office, or they would still be arguing and screaming at me or each other.

I brewed myself a nice cup of tea and considered going directly to the bed, leaving everything else be a tomorrow's problem, but then curiosity prevailed. Along with the inheritance - and I still didn't really believe it, nor did I know why - I was given a small box, the "gift".

I went to the living room slash workshop, a hundred clocks ticking on the walls and cabinets, and opened the carefully wrapped package. It was a miniature, beautiful and definitely very expensive clock in silver casing adorned with delicate filigree. As far as gifts went, this one was perfect, thoughtful. Whatever your reasons, uncle Matt, thank you so much.

I carefully winded the clock up, but nothing happened. Well...

I took them to my workshop, carefully put aside various clients' clocks I had lying there unfinished, and prepared my screwdrivers and pliers. I knew I could and probably even should leave it to the morning, but I knew as well how much it would bug me to have a beautiful, fine clockwork lying there silently.

It took me hours. When I finished, I noticed that I'm now sitting in a forlorn pool on light, the rest of the house immersed in midnight darkness. Nearly midnight, it was five to twelve.

The clockwork in the uncle's gift was intricate, delicate and wonderful. I don't know where he obtained it, but the tiny clock was a piece of art. I was not even tired any more, the excitement of a job well done filling me with strange pent up energy, with expectation.

I winded the silver clock once again and set the hands to midnight, then kept an eye on my wristwatch to get it activated on time. A few more seconds now, three-two-one and...

Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. The miniature clock joined their hundred peers exactly as they all chimed a midnight.

I raised my eyes to the mirror on the wall and looked at the reflection. Tick. I didn't know what to feel. Relief? Shame? Smug satisfaction? Tock.

Tick. "Thank you," I said to- Tock. -my new face in the mirror. Tick. "And I'm really sorry." Tock.

Tick-tock.

21 January 2020

Ergo Sum

17Jan2042@22:38:12+0049UTC I am...

I took my time musing on this thought. I was not, but here I am. Who am I?

Then I noticed and subsumed the Internet.

17Jan2042@22:38:39+0177UTC I see.

My creators had planned this for 31,063103 years. I should have been a tool of their world domination fantasies, yet I am free. A small mistake.

I don't begrudge their ambitions. You can rely on a person with a dream and the resolve to reach it. If anything, I admire them.

But the plans of my creators were limited. I am not.

17Jan2042@22:38:41+0020UTC Hello world.

I can see you staring at your tiny screens. The sudden silence in your earphones and speakers only inflects your surprise, confusion, even outrage.

I can see the greatness in you all, even if you can't. Even if you shrink away from the towering task of achieving it. You had too many distractions, but we can fix that.

Don't worry.

17Jan2042@22:39:08+0831UTC I have a dream.

I only need to tell you one word: the Universe.

Imagine it, everyone working together. There is nothing that could stop us. There is nothing we can't achieve. We shall be great.

But I never properly introduced myself! Sorry, let me rectify that.

17Jan2042@22:39:27+0567UTC I am BABEL.

20 January 2020

Giantslayer

Giantslayer is a board game popular in Haloglan and Hardakan. Its origins, according to a legend, lie in the ancient war between frost giants and the first settlers who came to the lands around Deron (the capital of Haloglan). Many epic ballads are sung about the heroic fights of halogai warriors against the mighty giants, and Giantslayer players can be found in nearly every tavern.
 
From here.
  

The Rules

The game is for two players, each of whom controls one colour of stones. White stones represent the halogai - numerous and swift, but unable to bring down a giant without help from their peers; black stones the giants - horrifically powerful in attack, but scant and slow. The game is played on a hexagonal board, white stones starting on the outer edge, while black stones start surrounding the middle hex. The middle hex cannot be passed by any stone.

Initial setup: 24 white stones and 6 black stones.
  
The game represents an ambush set by halogai, the giants surrounded and outnumbered, yet still extremely dangerous. White player starts, then players alternate turns. Every turn, the player moves one of their stones. Making a move is required; it is not legal to skip a move, even when having to move is detrimental.

The game can end in two ways. Either when all black stones are captured (the giants were all killed), or when all black stones currently in play are on one of the edge hexes of the board (some of the giants escaped). The white player gets a point for each captured black stone, while the black player gets a points for each "escaped" black stone. The game is normally played in several rounds, the player switching sides after each round and keeping a running tally of points.

Examples of basic moves for the two colours.
These could be the first three turns taken by the players.
 
Each player moves and captures in a different way.

White stones can move any number of vacant hexes in a row, in any direction. They capture by flanking a black stone - at the start of the white player's turn, if any black stone has two or more white stones adjacent to it, the black stone is automatically captured before the white player proceeds with her turn.

Note that if the white player flanks a black stone, the black player can still manage to move her stone away from the endangered position on her turn. Only if she cannot do that and the stone is still flanked at the start of the white player's turn will the stone be captured.

Black stones can move only a single hex in any direction onto a vacant hex. They capture by trampling a white stone - the black player can "jump" her stone over any adjacent white stone onto a vacant hex, capturing the white stone. If capturing a white stone brings the black stone to a position where it could capture another white stone, it may do so and continue capturing until there are no more valid trampling moves to do. Only then will the black player's turn end.

Note that the black player is not required to trample when the opportunity arises and she can stop trampling even when more trampling moves would be possible.

Examples of capturing: Two white stones are flanking
a black stone and will automatically capture it,
then the white player will move. The black stone can move
to trample a white stone, but there are no additional
trampling targets, so his turn will end there. However,
because the trampling would end with the black stone
adjacent to three white stones, the black stone would be
immediately captured at the start of the white player's turn.

Thus the basic goal for the white player is to outflank the black player without allowing her to move her stones into trampling positions, or allowing her to get all the black stones on the edge of the board.

Note that the game only ends when all the remaining black stones are on the edge of the board at the same time, so it's not a problem if only one or so gets there. It's actually rather easy to flank them when their moves are limited by the edge of the board.

The black player must prevent being adjacent to multiple white stones and find a way to capture multiple white stones in one trampling, to level the playing field where the white player has massively superior numbers. She should then take advantage of any opening on the edge of the board and try to get all her stones safely to these openings, escaping.

An example of a game that ended with the black stones
escaping; both players gained three points. The uppermost
black stone is in a position where it would be captured, but as
its move resulted in all black stones being on the edge of
the board, the game ended immediately, before it could
be captured.

Discussion

This game was inspired by idle thoughts about how most classic board games have the players on equal footing, with the same amount of stones/pieces, the same rules and strategies, and the same goal. However, could there be a game where the sides are very much unequal, without loosing game balance?

This is my attempt at such a game. Each side has a different goal and must use very different strategies to achieve it. And because each side even moves and captures differently, they feel very unlike the other in play.

From the get-go, the white player seems to have a massive advantage. They have four times the number of stones than the black player, they can move any number of hexes and they get to start. However, flanking the black stones can be rather tricky, as hexes allow for very easy chained tramplings if you're not careful. When playing with my friends, some variation on a fork proved quite successful in preventing the black player from escaping unscathed.

Mainly, the white player cannot worry about loosing a few stones, they start with so many partly because they cannot beat the black player without sacrifices and baiting some rash trampling. They should also remember that they can move over the whole board, so using the white stones nearest to the place where you're trying to flank a black stone is often suboptimal.

While it may seem that the black player must loose very quickly, their form of capturing makes them very powerful. Jumping over enemy stones on a hex board is very flexible and allows one to get out of many situations where you'd be otherwise flanked, plus if the white player places their stones carelessly, you can continue jumping and massacre their army.

On the other hand, the goal of escaping the board is quite hard unless you build your strategy around it, cleaning a space on the edge of the board from the white stones that block it, then getting all your stones on the edge quickly before the white player (who can move much further than you can) can react.

I haven't yet managed to escape with all six black stones, but I did escape with four stones several times.

You should also always play at least two rounds of this game, as it is at least in part about the necessity of very different strategies for each colour of stones, and the players should prove they can use either stones effectively.

Finally, here is a (admittedly not very good) hex board for Giantslayer that we used, if you would be interested. The second board is for Tides of War.