30 September 2020

Weres of Vanth

Weres are notorious if rare on Vanth, the victims of a hereditary curse that brings about excessive hair growth*, alarming allergies and a monthly involuntary transmogrification associated with one of the Vanth's moons. The origin of the curse varies by the family line, from a pissed-off deity or experimental gene splicing going awry to the unspeakable depravity of bestiality. (Who am I kidding, it was the bestiality most of the time.)
While certain level of animosity against these animal-shifters is not uncommon, a poll carried out in the Realm of the Hobling Emperor and the cities along the western coast of the Sea of Great Peril showed that most citizens are accepting of their therianthropic neighbours, as long as all fowl devoured during the full moon is promptly compensated for. In the south-eastern jungles, Weres even tend to hold positions as revered druids, shamans or other religious leaders, due to the belief that they can commune with the spirits of nature much more easily than other folk, especially in their animal form.

By contrast in the Slaver Kingdoms, Weres are considered a high-priced commodity, as they can be sold either as curios to extravagant nobles, or as quality breeding stock**. And don't even ask about the Shunned Towns.

A recent study published in the Paranature journal suggests that it is not advisable to tell any jokes along the lines of "You mamma was a bitch. Literally." in the presence of Weres. The study concluded that such a joke tends to elicit a brutal, violent reaction from 93.7 % of Weres.
Wereshark, werecheetah, werebat and weregator.
When you roll this racial option, assemble your therianthropic curse from the tables below, then roll on the table of races again to find your actual race when you're not prowling the night in animal form.
From Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Beast Form
You turn into an animal form. Roll here.

If you don't like the result, you may reroll, but only once. If your beast form is particularly tiny, you may turn into a swarm of such animals instead.

While in your were-form, you have all abilities that the animal would possess, whether extra combat effects, better senses, or new forms of movement, but you cannot wield weapons or wear armour. Wounds carry over between forms.

You always shape-shift into your animal form on the night when your moon is full, and cannot turn back until morning when you revert automatically. At any other time, you may try and roll Great Feat to change. This roll can only be attempted once per day, whether to turn into an animal, or to turn back.

You can communicate with animals of similar type as your beastly form, no matter your current form.
d20 Banes
When exposed to your Bane (skin contact for the materials, otherwise as appropriate), take d4 damage per round. When attacked with your Bane, take double damage.

  1. silver,
  2. gold,
  3. iron (but not steel),
  4. copper (including bronze),
  5. chrome,
  6. obsidian,
  7. gems,
  8. glass,
  9. ice (but not snow),
  10. paper,
  11. fresh wood,
  12. old bones,
  13. synthetic fibre and plastic,
  14. sea water,
  15. alcohol,
  16. garlic,
  17. music and singing,
  18. phasics,
  19. magic spells and weapons,
  20. the light of your moon; you change on new moon instead.

d8 Moons
  1. Black Moon
  2. Green Moon
  3. Grey Moon
  4. Half-Moon
  5. Red Moon
  6. Skull Moon
  7. White Moon
  8. Yellow Moon

Vanth actually has nine moons, occasionally. The Blue Moon, also known as the Capricious Traveller or the Stargazer's Bother, tends to appear sporadically for a few days, then not be seen for many months. Its erratic presence thankfully doesn't affect any vanthian Weres, who would otherwise be quite inconveniently at the mercy of its quantum whimsy.
Good old werewolf transformation.
From Hemlock Grove
*) Not to be confused with the much more common super-hair-growth mutation. Also note that non-mammalian Weres tend to develop small patches of feathers or scales instead of becoming hirsute.
**) It has been shown that interbreeding with Weres increases the intelligence of animal offsprings to near-human levels. The loose alliance of several Were tribes known as the Horse Tamers voluntarily uses this quirk of biology to breed their world-famous, highly intelligent horses.

29 September 2020

The Hunt

Several strings of footprints stretched along a narrow, snow-covered path leading up to the top of the world. Enormous white mountains pierced the serene azure sky, like ancient titans sworn to protect the land from the corrupted civilization. Here the glorious nature which gave birth to Marx and Lenin showed its true might. This was the Earth of yore, untouched by the capitalist filth.

High and higher the footprints lead, into a small cave hidden in the very core of the Himalayas mountains. They continued deep into the cave, where a tunnel twisted and winded through endless stone. Finally, the pathway opened into a heavenly valley, happy to be isolated from the outside world. The footprints made their way downwards, following a small group of men. Slowly, the snow disappeared.

The tiny group travelled through a village full of marvellous far-eastern architecture, past glittering waterfalls and gardens resembling a tiny paradise each, towards a tall temple of jade and precious metals. There most the men stayed, and only two entered the ornamental gates surrounded by six finely crafted statues of Buddha.

In a long nephrite hall with no furniture but a plethora of engravings, they sat down in front of an old monk. Slowly, he stopped humming the mantra of meditation and opened his wise and compassionate eyes. The two men removed their hoods, revealing the respected and self-confident face of the Great and Glorious Leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and the scarred, sombre face of his feared bodyguard, Ivan Gorovits.

"Welcome to my humble abode, comrades," the monk greeted them.

"Blessed be Lenin, who guided us here and shielded us from the rockslides, avalanches and the smart missiles of our enemies! And blessed be you, the most honoured elder of Shangri-La, ancient lore keeper of Shambala, great governor of Tralla-La, O wisest of the wise in Xanadu! I came here with an offering of an alliance between your people and the people of the Soviet Union!" declared the First Among Bolsheviks in a strong and resonant voice, the same voice that had shown the true and right way to the lost masses of the proletariat for many years now.

"Ah, so our anguish is not unfamiliar to you. For two millennia we had lived in utmost joy, embracing the wise words of Tripitaka and Das Kapital, until the fateful yesteryear. A wicked capitalist named Emmanuel Goldstein found our valley, forced his way inside, and tried to seduce us with his lies about private property, huge profit and untold riches brought by capitalism. We now presume he had a malevolent plan to buy our valley and turn it into a theme park for western tourists, but we managed to drive the man out. Capitalism be cursed forever!"
A terrible cloud of unprecedented anger descended upon the brow of the old monk. "Yet we are not truly rid of this terrible cancer. We face the accursed abundance, never-ending innovation, unstoppable progress, social decadence and independence, and worst of all, selfish freedom of capitalism. The seed was sown and threatens to bring us to self-destruction unless we act quickly! As the president of the local Communist Party, I was forced to take drastic measures to prevent a civil war in our beloved, backwater valley. We will be thrilled and thankful to join the Soviet Union in exchange for your help."

The Most Beloved Lord and Master of CCCP nodded with deep sorrow. "We know all too well about the trappings of the sly capitalists. The Great Soviet Union, our beloved homeland, was defiled by Goldstein just eighteen months ago. Its happy collective farms were abolished and our people driven to poverty, unemployment and despair. Dark influence of the Enemy is spreading like plague across our lands! We must strike back, we must strike together, we must strike hard! The seed of dissent will not grow if we squash it and all of its ilk in an exemplary bloodshed. I humbly offer to lead the troops of Shangri-La against the foul imperialists, destroying their way of life and driving them out of their vile, resplendent dens."

"Yes," Ivan ventured. "Leader need good men to kill bad capitalists who chase him away from CCCP! Ivan good man and cossacks good men but cannot restore Leader alone. Soviet Union need more people than twelve."

The Illustrious and Irked Leader shushed Ivan and turned back to the old monk. "As I was saying, we need to work together and act quickly to shatter the very spirit of the bourgeoisie!"

"Indeed," the monk replied, reflecting and ruminating. "We ought to work together. However, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I must be assured that you are a worthy ally. First, I shall test your wisdom. Tell me, how many Zen Buddhists does it take to change a light bulb?"

The Wise and Brilliant Leader smiled. "All of them and none, of course, for such is the nature of Zen."

"Great answer and greater still the man who spoke it," the monk nodded.

On some unseen signal, a novice monk appeared along with a white cow. The old monk gave the Leader a sharp look: "Now tell me, does this cow share the truth of Buddha, or does she yet strive to embrace the wholeness of Marxism and Leninism?"

The Best Leader That Ever Lived replied: "Yes!"

"Moo," the cow said, pleased.

"Correct," the old monk bowed in a polite acknowledgement of the superior intellect of the Leader. "Last but not least, I must ask you to describe the sure sign of a CCCP kolkhoz being founded in the middle of the deep Siberian taiga."

"The sound of trees falling in the forest."

"Praise Buddha and Marx! Russian communists are indeed as wise as I was told!" the monk cried out in ecstatic joy.

"Great, then signing a pact is but a formality now, right?" the Leader enquired. "How many masters of ancient and powerful martial arts can you lend us? How many occultists and sorcerers, espers and psykers? Maybe even some conventional weapons? Tanks and troops, a nuclear bomb or two?"

"Not that fast, my esteemed comrade. Enlightenment surely is the most important trait of a man and a communist, but it alone won't win a war. Strength of body is needed, too. I can give you as many troops as your heart desires, once I am sure they will serve side by side with the best of Russian bogatyrs. As per tradition, you ought to succeed in a difficult and dangerous quest before the alliance becomes reality."

The Incredibly Intrepid and Impatient Leader almost started to protest, but the monk continued: "A frightful monster raided our village recently, coming through an extradimensional portal that opened right in this very temple. The casualties suffered were low, nothing that couldn't be compensated for, but on its escape from our defenders, the creature took with itself our most priced possession of all, a life-sized copy of Lenin's mummy. Slay the beast and bring back the mummy of our beloved Father of the Revolution, then we shall know the true strength of your communist conviction and the capitalistic oppression will crumble before our united might!"

The Most Gloomy Leader sighs: "Well, okay then. Can you at least tell me what kind of a monster are we looking for?"

"Most definitely, yes. None have truly seen the beast for it attacked on a moonless night, but we have scrutinized the sacred scrolls and tomes of forbidden knowledge, until we found a passage we believe pertains to this horrific anti-communist thief."
The old monk intoneed in a dark voice: "On tienoo äkkiä niin hiljainen ja musta ja mörkö niin kuin vuori tuijottaa, ja jäinen maa on täynnä kammotusta, kun kuustakin pois värit putoaa."

There was a stretch as silence, broken only once the Notably Frustrated Leader asked in a voice that betrayed none of his inner thoughts: "And that's all? Really?"

"Indeed," the monk replied. "Do you believe yourself up to this task, O Most Monumental Master of the Only True and Righteous Philosophy?"

The Resigned yet Resolute Leader whispered something briefly to Ivan. Ivan opened his backpack, taking out the hereditary weapons of his family: an AK-47 covered in notches, one per slain capitalist; his grandfather's collection of grenades and his gas mask; the bulletproof vest his grandmother wore during the Great October Socialist Revolution; a hammer and sickle given to his father by Lenin himself; and finally a massive scimitar of old Russian steel, used by generations of his forefathers. Then he strode to the door: "Ivan go prepare cossacks."

In a minute, the rest of the group that stayed waiting outside of the temple was marshalled, all hardy cossacks of the Tried but Triumphant Leader's personal squad.

"Follow me," the old monk said and all followed him through wide halls of jade, then steep stairs of granite, then narrow tunnels of gneiss, then rickety ladder of pine wood, then dim passageways of caked dust. There in a chamber forgotten for many a millennium, a bluish glowing portal yawned in the mid-air.

The old monk spoke up: "Be careful, brave warriors, for the road you will tread on is violent and may well lead to your death. May the spirit of Lenin guide you to victory!"

But on the faces of the small squad nothing but eager determination could be seen, as behoves a true Soviet comrade. Facing the portal, they all gripped their trusty kalashnikovs.

"For father Lenin, for the Party and for our Great and Glorious Leader!" Ivan exclaimed and the cossacks joined him in a thunderous battle cry. Then one by one, they stepped into the luminous rift. The last to go was Ivan, a wide grin on his heroic face: "Ivan ready to hunt."

After a while, the old monk looked at the Daring and Dashing Leader, who was still standing next to him: "You... won't go?"

"No, of course not. Now, don't take it the wrong way, but it might be a while and I don't particularly fancy sitting here in the cold temple halls the whole time. Do you have a pub or something around here? I could use a bottle of vodka. Or two."

28 September 2020

Variant Chess

Chess is a multiversal constant. Everywhere there is an intelligent life form capable of crafting a chequered board of two alternating colours and a set of playing pieces, a variant of chess will sooner or later arise. Scholars might mark this phenomenon a case of convergent evolution, but it could as well be a mathematical inevitability, or a silly joke of some obscure godling.
This is one of the many variants of chess displayed in the Black and White Hall of the Magpie Museum in Tam Ruat.
This variant of chess is played on a board of 12x12 black and white squares:



Pieces that "jump" can move over other pieces rather than being blocked by them. In normal chess, the only jumping piece is a knight, but there are several more in Tam Ruat variant.

Barbarian (b)
Barbarian moves one square diagonally forward to the right or left, but captures by advancing one square; like an inverted pawn. Similarly to a pawn, a barbarian cannot move backwards, can move two squares on its first move, can capture en passant, and can be promoted if it reaches the opposite side of the board.

Chariot (C)
Chariot is the same as a rook in normal chess.

Cleric (c)
Cleric is the same as a bishop in normal chess.

Ghost (g)
Ghost does not start on the board, but instead can be summoned whenever a warlock (see below) captures a piece. The ghost then appears on the square of the captured piece. Each player has two ghost pieces, but if a ghost is captured, it can be re-summoned again.

Ghost moves similarly to a grasshopper, so it can jump any distance orthogonally or diagonally, but only over another piece, landing in the square immediately after that piece. It may jump over pieces of either colour, but only captures if the square beyond the jumped-over piece is occupied by a piece of the opposing colour. Ghost cannot move if there is no piece to jump over.

King (K)
King is the same as in normal chess. Additionally, a king who reaches the opposite side of the board is promoted to an emperor, who moves similarly to a queen except it still cannot check.

Knight (k)
Knight is the same as in normal chess.

Paladin (P)
Paladin moves as a combination of wazir and alfil. Thus, it either moves one square orthogonally, or jumps two squares diagonally.

Queen (Q)
Queen is the same as in normal chess.

Warrior (w)
Warrior is the same as a pawn in normal chess.

Warlock (W)
Similarly to a king, warlock can move one square in any direction. However, unlike all other pieces, it captures by jumping over an adjacent enemy piece in any direction. If the player has a spare ghost piece, it is summoned on the square of the captured piece. A warlock cannot land on an occupied square, even if it's occupied by an enemy piece.

Wizard (X)
Wizard can use the moves of ferz, camel and dabbaba. It can jump either one square diagonally, or two squares orthogonally, or in an elongated knight's move - one, then three squares (aka "1-3 leaper" move). It is, however, colour-locked.
Knight by Stephen-0akley


All rules of normal chess apply, excepting the few changes below.

Castling does not exist, as the bigger board would make it harder to execute yet very powerful for moving the king to safety.

Promotion of barbarians and warriors can only be done into pieces that their player has lost - ie. when promoting, you select one of your captured pieces to resurrect in place of the barbarian or warrior, not any piece you would like. This prevents the player from getting several queens, but thanks to the number of new pieces with unique move sets also brings some nice tactical decisions.

The player that bares the opponent's king wins without the need for a checkmate. Given the existence of the emperor piece, too many games could end with tedious chasing after the highly mobile emperor.