Issue #48, September 2020
ISSN 2206-4907 (Online)
SUPERNATURAL BEINGS AND PLACES
RELICS DESIGNER'S NOTES … REVIEWS: IN NOMIME, LITTLE FEARS, LEXOCCULTUM … WITCHES AND WITCHCRAFT REVIEWS … GHOSTS IN D&D5E … OUT OF THE ABYSS PLAYER INTERVIEWS … SUCCUBUS-INCUBUS IN ARS MAGICA … CYBERDARKSPACE .. LOST GODS … "AMULET" MOVIE REVIEW… THE WIGHT KING POEM … AND MUCH MORE!
Table of Contents
RPG Review is a quarterly online magazine which is available in print version every so often (e.g., Issues 40 and 44 for RuneQuest Glorantha Con Down Under). All material remains copyright to the authors except for the reprinting as noted in the first sentence. Contact the author for the relevant license that they wish to apply. Various trademarks and images have been used in this magazine of review and criticism. Use of trademarks etc are for fair use and review purposes and are not a challenge to trademarks or copyrights. This includes Dungeons & Dragons by Hasbro, WoTC, TSR etc, Cyberspace and Darkspace by Iron Crown Enterprises, Little Fears by Key20, Relics by TinStar Games, LexOccultum by RiotMinds, Lost Gods by HarperCollins. Amulet movie distributed by Magnolia Pictures. Cover art by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 'The old woman retrieves her arm' from the series 'New forms of thirty-six ghosts', 1889 (detail) Yūrei (Japanese ghost) from the Hyakkai Zukan, ca. 1737". Wight" image Farinata degli Uberti addresses Dante. A Gustave Doré woodcut illustration from The Divine Comedy: The Inferno: Canto 10. Bael, Medium woodblock, from J.A.S. Collin de Plancy. Dictionnaire Infernal. Paris: E. Plon, 1863. Page 71. Central Australian landscape from CSIRO ScienceImage 1217 Aerial view of Central Australian landscape.jpg The Zone, image from Tarkovsky's film, Stalker (1979) and Michael Higgins', Roadside Picnic (2010)
Editorial and Cooperative News
to the 48th
issue of RPG Review, with a central topic of "Supernatural
Places and Beings",
of course is very much the staple of fantastic literature, but also,
on occasion, in science fiction as well where there is "physics,
but not as we know it".
of the genre, throughout these speculative fictions
is usually a sense, place, and beings where otherworldliness exists.
course, there are limits to what the human imagination can engage in
as well on
a supernatural level.
some of the beings of the Cthulhu mythos; Azathoth, the Blind Idiot
God that exists in a black hole in the centre of the galaxy, with the
monotonous sounds of piped flutes and
"encircled by his flopping horde of mindless and amorphous
How can a being exist in the middle of a black hole? Where does the
sound come from in the vacuum of space?
OK, these are more distal question and even the depths of such space is so far removed from one's immediate experience that such questions do not overly challenge one's experiences, even if they do generate cognitive challenges. How about something more visceral? Excuse me for slipping into a roleplaying anecdote, but many years ago I was running a game in "Perilous Lands", the setting for Powers & Perils. One of the player characters was trapped in "Oblivion". How was I do describe such a place? I did it primarily by sensory deprivation.
Imagine, if you will, that everything ceases to exist.
If you close your eyes, you can still see sense miniscule quantities of light. But this is was like being in the most pitch darkness. Usually, when one experiences other senses become more acute. But imagine that they are gone as well. There is no sense of smell or taste, not even the moist dank air that usually accompanies such darkness. There are no sounds, no background sounds, not even the sounds of one's breath or heartbeat. You try to to call out but there is nothing, not even the driest croak of one's throat. Then is when you realise that there is no sense of touch. Worse still, no body awareness. Not even a sense of heat, or even its absence. Where are your hands, your feet? There is no sense of balance, but no giddiness either. There is no gravity. There is nobody, no body, present. Space itself has disappeared, and you exist in a void.
no sensory input the minds starts to create some. Random images,
deeply embedded in subconscious memories, the most fervent and
supressed beliefs, one's greatest aspirations, one's greatest fears
rushing over one, waves of apophenia crashing over
straining the tenuous grasp of sanity which that tiny portion of the
reasoning mind hangs on to the remains of sanity. If one could weep
in elation or cry in terror they would. If one could feel exhausted
they would. Instead, as the final realisation, there is no time
either. An eternal present without a sense of past and future,
utterly remorseless and utterly uncontrollable.
Is not the absolute negation of the natural universe the ultimate level of the supernatural? Perhaps this is the extreme. Then I suppose the next step is to rebuild the universe from these principles. Start adding in components to our normal, natural world. But add in some special extras, beings and places which operate beyond, or in an alternative manner, to these rules. Beings and places where the sense of space and time are somehow different are very strong versions of the supernatural; they are "ordering principles" of our natural universe, and where they break down, almost anything can follow.
Once upon a time we would refer to the word "supernatural" in the same way that we often refer to "metaphysics" today; the philosophical grounding and speculation of what is above and beyond our expectations of natural reality. It is more than just magic, although it clearly includes it, but rather also raises fundamental questions about a reality. It is for good reason that the supernatural is associated with various gods, demons, devils, and otherworldly locations.
It is with this perspective that we find the writings for RPG Review issue 48. We start with content directly from gaming groups that are part of the Cooperative, Karl Brown's interview with players in his ongoing "Out of the Abyss", Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition game. This is followed by Andrew Daborn providing plot summaries in scripted form from his CyberDarkSpace campaign, an exciting mash-up of Cyberspace, Dark Space, and Stalkers, all set in central Australia. Following this, Steve Darlington, author of Relics, provides his explanations as designer's notes for a new supernatural-themed RPG.
After that, a piece by myself deriving from medieval theology on how Succubus and Incubus operate; for Ars Magica, because that takes such things seriously. Then a reviews that touch upon the subject matter; from yours truly of very different elaborations; In Nomine, a game of angels and demons, Little Fears, the game of childhood terrors, and LexOccultum, a recent game set (mainly) in an occult-inspired version of 18th century France. But real RPG reviewing awards for this issue go to Timothy S. Brannan, who apart from giving thorough designer's notes for Night Shift, also engages in an exceptional collction of reviews on supplements related to witches and witchcraft for D&D 5e, and a sample character race. Also following on with that game system, Karl Brown provides us some detailed material on ghosts characters.
As a new contributor (and the last article submitted), Honigfrosch provides a book review of Lost Gods, by BROM. Supernatural, to be sure, but also catching our attention with the subtitle: "Hell Is A Bad RPG Manual". How can one go past that? The ever-dependable Andrew Moshos has unearthed a topic-appropriate film review with Amulet, and to finish of the issue, and an entirely new contribution, Adam Karlovsky provides a poem entitled "The Wight King".
Now mention must also be made of the next issue of RPG Review (especially considering how late this one is): "Cyberpunk 2020 Conference: Year of the Stainless Steel Rat". The Cooperative is hosting an online convention on Sunday, December 27, 10:00 to 18:00 AEDST ONLINE for panels. 19:00 to 22:30 for gaming sessions. There will various talks and panels during the day, including author Francesco Verso, author and anthologist Sarena Ulibarri, and game designer Tod Foley (Cyberspace, Watch The World Die, Day Trippers). The timetable for the day follows. What we need you, gentle reader, to do is register at the following URL, and spread the word:
Guest Introductions, What Is/Was Cyberpunk?
"IT Security issues", techniques, protection
Literature, Film, Music, Fashion
Solarpunks, Biopunks and more
Anarchism, Libertarianism, Cypherpunks
Traditional tabletop RPGs, Computer RPGs, etc
All sorts of cyberpunk related material
Get some food, chummer
Cyberpunk 2020; Shadowrun, Eclipse Phase, Cyberspace
Well, that was a day
Until then, enjoy RPG Review Issue 48!
Lev Lafayette email@example.com
By Karl David Brown, C.S., Liz, Phil Price, and Bill Fahey
The bulk of this article is an interview with my players that is effectively a review of Out of the Abyss from the player’s perspective. This article also provides an overview of the first half of Out of the Abyss, discusses the strategy used to sustain a long campaign.
If you are playing this adventure, or would like to some day, you should stop reading now.
At session 35 my group has is just passed the half-way point of Out of the Abyss, one of the large hardcover adventure books from WOTC. Out of the Abyss is an adventure that mostly takes place in the extensive caves beneath the Forgotten Realms setting known as the Underdark. The adventure has supernatural horror themes. I tried to run the adventure ‘as written’ as much as possible with only minor changes to account for my PC’s actions. I pre-rolled the random encounters before sessions and did my best to explain what was rolled. There are plenty of reviews of this book out there if you want more background. Briefly, in the first half of the adventure the players begin as prisoners in a small drow outpost. The drow are evil underground elves. They escape and travel the Underdark as a sandbox visiting settlements in any order. At first, they must just survive and are pursued by their captors. Later they become local heroes of the gnome city of Blingdenstone. During their travels they eventually confront their captors and discover that demons and even Demon Lords have inexplicably appeared in the Underdark. Eventually, they find a route to the surface to get home and warn the surface world about the demons.
To begin Part 2 the players should be 8th level. If they are not the referee is instructed to raise their level to 8 or to add some adventures on the surface. My players flat out refused to visit one of the locations, Gracklstugh, so they are not 8th. It seemed logical to create a few adventures to complete quests the player themselves invented during the first half, account for travel out of the wilds, and link the two parts together. These interim sessions are not out of the book. We are currently part-way through this interval in Longsaddle, which is not in the adventure as written.
Except one, players were strangers recruited from the Facebook group of a local game store. Recruitment was continuous, in that new players were always welcome to respond to the session event invites. However, there was a maximum of six seats per session and preference went to players who had been to the most previous sessions. As expected, this produced a core of long-term players and allowed for new recruits when an existing player was no longer able to attend. We even had players return after long absences. All new players were given a ‘session zero’ induction to set expectations and orient them.
All players had two characters but only one was ever active during a session. Since this was a multi-year playtest of races produced with my “Tinker’s Toolkit Race Design” (available on the DM’s Guild) each player had a character from one of my races and one that was from a WOTC core book. At every session half of the characters had to be WOTC canon and the other half races of my design. Some characters were Underdark natives.
Since Out of the Abyss has a horror survival theme and we play without the referee fudging the dice, PC deaths were expected. Therefore, experience points are assigned to the player not the character. New characters have the player’s experience points and level. About halfway through the first half, after consultation, we ruled that regardless of experience points no character could be a lower level than two levels below the highest active character. The combination of rules for seat allocation and experience points was designed to incentivise players to attend as many sessions as they could.
The responding players and the sessions they played were:
Liz. 1, 2, 28, 29, 30, 32-35.
C.S. 1-12, 15, 16, 18-22, 24-35
Phil Price. 2-28, 30-35
Bill Fahey. 29-33, 35
I’d like to ask you all a few questions about the adventure so far. This will be published as a kind of review of Out of the Abyss to help folks thinking about running or playing it if it is for them. I’ll publish your name and which sessions you went to. Let me know if you want your name withheld.
In sessions 1-3 the PCs began as prisoners. If you were there, how did it go? If you weren’t how do you feel about starting off like that?
Liz. I thought it was an entertaining way to bring the different characters together and an efficient way to get them to work together against a common enemy. From what I remember it went, er, pretty well... That is, with a certain amount of chaos but most of us got out in the end.
C.S. I think we (the players) were disorganised so it took us way too long to escape. We probably could have and should have done it in one session with one escape attempt. My first PC, a deep gnome rogue, got caught stealing while doing his slave work assignment in the kitchen and ended up being fed to the spiders. He probably should have surrendered rather than try to fight the guards with his stolen chicken bone or whatever it was. My second PC, his conveniently almost-identical twin brother survived all the way until we left Blingdenstone, where he retired from adventuring as a local hero.
Phil Price. I missed the 1st session but the party was still in the cell. I thought it was a useful way of building tension and orientating the players to working with the NPCs. And getting to know the other players as well.
This game is about survival and that is clear from the beginning.
Bill Fahey. It would have been a really interesting way to start things off. Not the normal at all.
During much of the campaign you were accompanied by numerous NPCs. What were the pro’s and cons of all these extras?
Liz. Pros: Another
source of player motivation.
Cons: Remembering them all and remembering to take them into account when planning some nonsense manoeuvre.
C.S. The NPCs were probably intended by the OOTA authors to be a way in to the various Underdark cities but didn't really serve that purpose for our group since our party had several PCs with non-canon races that mostly came from the Underdark.
IMO the NPCs were OK at first but became a significant drain on xp gained (until we banned them from participating in fights) and a very very very long extended escort mission. Which has kind of finished now that we've delivered Elspeth to Longsaddle, but we somehow managed to get ourselves another escort mission delivering the deep gnomes to the Dwarven city even before that finished.
I don't think there were any actual pros to keeping them around. They weren't even much use for gathering food as we travelled or keeping watch when camping. And we had to keep them protected and fed along the way.
The delusional quaggoth Derendil was an exception. He could fight. Shame he got turned into a statue by the medusa later in Blingdenstone.
Phil Price. The NPCs gave some initial increased survivability to the party.
Turning down the wrong tunnel didn't mean instant death. And they gave some Underdark info for the surface dwellers. At some point, our group of players worked out that the player characters could handle business without the NPCs and loss of XPs. And that was Ok. We did have some fun with one murderous NPC - a bit of chaos.
Bill Fahey. For the above ground section they have been helpful to manage the beasts of burden carrying all of the loot!
DM’s note. Some canon characters like the deep gnomes were also Underdark natives. OotA also has Underdark background options players can take yet the story tends to assume the PCs are surface dwellers trying to get home.
Not all random travel encounters have to be fights. My players chose to help escaped human slaves, including Elspeth, to the surface and a group of deep gnome traders who had gotten into trouble. Returning these random encounters to their homes actually became a major mission in our group although it does not appear in the book.
There is a lot of travelling in Out of the Abyss. What do you think about sessions where you were travelling between the cities of the Underdark?
Liz. My character is very curious about the world and does not mind the travelling. And there are many exciting encounters along the way.
Out of the Abyss is written to have survival and supernatural horror themes. Do you think these themes come through during play?
Liz. I think so.
C.S. Not really. Maybe a little in Neverlight Grove. Those mushroom zombies were creepy.
Phil Price. The horror themes were present. In our game, a number of players were playing Underdark races. At different stages, I was playing a roctopus cleric and then a grimlock ranger. Just like home for these guys.
Bill Fahey. From what I've seen on the above ground section making our way towards Gaultgrym I can see the underlying tones. The release of the demons and the impending feeling of escalation is slowly brewing.
DM’s note. A rocktopus is a cave dwelling air-breathing octopus. Grimlocks and roctopi PC races were designed with the Tinker’s Toolkit Race Design and will appear in a future publication.
Liz. I was not at the city, but the encounter with the green dragon was epic. My character was terrified and could only watch helplessly, which was fine since there was pretty much nothing they could do anyway.
C.S. I remember being captured by one group of fishmen and forced to participate in disrupting the opposing group's ritual - by pretending to be sacrifice victims with our weapons etc hidden - that ended up summoning Leemogoogoo (aka Demogorgon). and then running in terror to escape the destruction of the city when the demon arrived.
Phil Price. That was my scariest encounter. Just run away! And running away wasn't fun. My roctopus cleric was the slowest member of the party.
DM’s Note. I roleplayed the fish-folk with a funny gurgling voice, a mouth full of spit, and drift in pronounciations. Demogorgon is a Demon Lord.
When the drow slaver’s caught up with you again it soon became obvious that the party was out-gunned. However, the players refused to run, like the writers expected. If you were there how did that work out for you? If you weren’t there how likely would you be to run from overwhelming odds? Why?
Liz. Sorry, I wasn't there for that session. I think I’m likely to run from even fairly decent odds, I’m a flumph cleric!
C.S. I think we all assumed we were dead anyway, so we may as well go down fighting. Also, we didn't think we'd be able to manage a fourth escape attempt. It was an extremely difficult and tense fight right up until the last round where either survival or complete failure depended on whether our quaggoth Derendil or the drow priestess were killed. Our quaggoth won, captured the priestess, and forced her to raise dead on us.
IMO, it was the best fight of the entire campaign so far. I would have been happy with it even if it ended up in a TPK (but much happier that it didn't
Phil Price. After escaping the Demogorgon and wandering the Underdark, our party was feeling frustrated. We weren't in a mood to run away. Being blasted from distance by a wand of gloop was tricky but a darkness spell forced some hand-to-hand combat. In the end, after some party member deaths, our quoggoth companion was hanging on to and battering a levitating mage. I agree. This was edge of the seat stuff.
DM’s note: The flumph PC race is given in short form in The Tinker’s Toolkit Race Design. A quoggoth is an underground ape-folk. Since everyone had two characters, the other assumed to be scouting other tunnels etc, a total party kill in one session would not end the campaign. Additionally, perhaps there is a hidden price to Lolth bringing you back to life...
Were you at Neverlight Grove? If so, do you want to talk about it or will that trigger a flash-back? If you were not there how do you feel about surreal-horror adventures?
Liz. Again, I missed that session. Surreal-horror is cool but I expect that it would be more work for the DM to create the requisite atmosphere.
C.S. I think we were largely treating it as a big fight that we could maybe win if we just fought long enough, that we could somehow save Neverlight Grove for the uninfected myconids by disrupting the demon queen's "wedding" ceremony.
It took us way too long to realise that the endless waves of infected fungus zombies really were endless, that we had no chance against the fungus demon queen (Zuggtmoy?) and that our only hope was to gather the uninfected myconids and escape with them to find a new home for them.
Phil Price. This was a fun place. Definite horror themes. Always a risk of infection and who wants to be turned into a mindless zombie? My character was a masked grimlock ranger armed with a couple of xbows. Spike growth and missile fire could mow down many zombies from a distance. But they kept coming. We escaped with refugee myconids just in time. No flashbacks yet.
DM’s Note. Spike growth is a spell.
The party spent a lot of time in Blingdenstone eventually becoming heroes of that town. If you were there, do you feel a connection to that place and what was your favourite scene there? If you were not there what was your favourite location so far?
Liz. I was not there, but I did enjoy the Harpells.
C.S. My PC, Dribble Seamfinder, was a deep gnome rogue from Blingdenstone, so he was a native. I missed some of the sessions there (IIRC both of the fights with the pudding king, maybe more) but did enough there to become a hero of the city.
Dunno if i can pick a favourite session there, there was lots of good adventuring around. Some of this I played with my main PC Dribble, some I played with my alternate non-canon race PC (a sprite druid called Fox Moonbottom, who became my main PC after I retired Dribble when the party left the underdark).
Fave scene was probably getting the stone blessing after solving some of Blingdenstone's major problems.
Because Dribble was a local, I got stuck with most of the interaction with Blingdenstone notables, even though charisma checks were decidedly not his strength....certainly no great successes but fortunately, he did not fail them too badly.
Phil Price. Our party spent a number of sessions at and around Blingdonstone. There were player and party member changes and we lost some NPCs My roctopus ( A nature cleric from the depths. Known as Clamps to the party) died in an epic battle where The Pudding King was killed. His last thoughts were "Oh no! Slimes can climb walls !" Surrounded by a room full of slimes, there was no way out .... unless you are a flying pixie. I enjoyed the whole Blingdonstone part of this campaign. The Neverlight Grove adventure was a Blingdonstone quest.
DM’s Note. Elspeth the rescued random encounter human in our campaign owned a farm in Longsaddle so my players decided to take her home. Longsaddle is home to the Harpell clan of wizards beloved by the Forgotten Realms fan-base. I built encounters in the town and used a modified version of Into Ivy Mansion by M.T. Black available on the DM’s Guild.
Is there anything else you want to talk about from this adventure?
Liz. I can't believe my flumph character has survived this long!
C.S. I don't really have anything else specific to say about OOTA, just a general comment that while I have greatly enjoyed the game (and still do), I much prefer an open world or west marches type campaign, and am not a huge fan of WOTC's epic "save the world from the monster of the year again" campaigns. But I know that's a lot more work for the DM.
I also prefer low to medium level games (say, 1st up to 10th) and suspect that higher level play will be less fun with overpowered PCs vs overpowered monsters....but the high levels are kind of essential in a campaign like OOTA where the intention is for the PCs to rise from 1st to 20th level.
DM’s Note. Out of the Abyss takes the characters from 1st level to 15th but I will keep the game going to 20th.
By Andrew Daborn, Simon Stainsby, Rodney Brown, Michael Cole, Gene Korolew, and Lev Lafayette
Pilot Episode – Coming soon on CyberDarkSpace!
* Establishing close in shot of chrome skyscraper lobby bustling with suits and tradies. Subtext reads: Capital Accumulates Tower, Alice Springs - Mparntwe, 04/06/90
* Interior of cool, white office. HOPE Barcelona, a tall, suited woman gestures to Wallace WALLAROO Namatjira, a frail suited man, to leave.
HOPE - Go get your team. You’ve got four weeks before the execs arrive. By then I want a full report on the Zone!
*Camera pans out of the office dramatically, taking in the huge, but unfinished skyscraper. It’s one of many in the centre of a sprawling Alice Springs. At the view pulls up where the mountains should be is what looks like a long static coloured rain storm. Subtext reads: West MacDonnell Ranges - Tjoritija, The Zone.
* Exterior shot of ‘Dingo's Discount Army Surplus Emporium’. Out walk Steven BUDDHA Walker and David JONES, two tall techies carrying a large tent, several metal detectors and more night vision goggles on their heads than necessary to load up a battered land cruiser outside.
* Shot of a sleek hovercar with Joanne BOMBER Lancaster, a broad shouldered jillaroo in the back seat. She is pulling up topographic maps of the West MacDonnell Ranges on a laptop, a large hunting rifle by her side.
* External shot, the bush at night. Everyone is standing in mid-ground staring intently towards camera. There is a haze in the air. Vance CANCER Derling, a disturbingly gaunt and pale figure, walks towards the camera. Before he gets there he is thrown upwards by an unseen force, landing several meters away with a scream.
Episode 1, previously -
* External shot, the bush at night. A number of dead dingoes lie around the stalkers as their guns smoke.
WALLAROO - Stick a couple of them in the back of the truck for HOPE.
* External shot, the bush at night. BUDDHA, sneaking stops suddenly looking at some huts in the distance.
BUDDHA – Zombies!
* Wipe to campfire with HELEN BAKK, HOLLY POLITE, AUNTIE MATTER and a slab of beer. Fabulously cyberized, chromed and bedazzled they welcome the others.
HELEN BAKK – Stalkers
actually...Well, and artists. We’ve got a gig at the Golden Showers
on Friday at ten! But nothing pays the bills like a night in the
* External shot, the bush at night. Wooden shelter near the campfire is overgrown in an odd mossy substance. BOMBER pokes it with a stick and it rapidly grows down the stick after her. She screams.
* Slash cut to CANCER running screaming through bush.
* Slash cut to BUDDHA screaming and struggling to get his moss covered shirt off.
Episode 2, previously -
* Exterior shot, early morning in the suburban sprawl. TANISHA, a hooded teen perched on a fence, looks indignantly at BUDDHA, currently naked apart from a tarpaulin and bright red.
TANISHA - What the bloody hell happened to you?
BUDDHA - Er… do you know anyone who can help?
* Exterior shot of small weatherboard medical clinic. Outside stands a tall, jaundice man in a dusty lab-coat and a toothy grin waving at the camera.
TANISHA (voiceover) - DR KEEL, my uncle works for him. He’s a specialist in what comes out of the Zone.
* Interior of surgery. In background are many glass jars with a variety of insectoid and deep sea creatures suspended in liquid. In the foreground is a restrained BUDDHA. Still grinning Dr KEEL takes a beetle from a jar and approaches BUDDHA.
TANISHA (voiceover) - Bloody weird though.
* Exterior, split screen. BOMBER and her corporate contact, JACKSON.
JACKSON - Got a job for you, take a parcel from Yosef downtown to me. Don't worry about the rioters.
* External shot, the bush at night. From a distance the stalkers gaze on a toilet shack with a ray of light emanating from the outside wall to the ground. JONES traces a rapidly clicking Geiger counter on it.
JONES It’s hot!
WALLAROO - Unlimited power!
Episode 3, previously -
* External shot, the bush. The next night. From a distance the stalkers gaze on a dunny with a ray of light emanating from the outside wall to the ground. This time they have radiation tags and heavily modified Esky.
* Interior of brightly lit dunny. BUDDHA reaches for a fist of amber off a slant of light arcing into the wall. Blood trickles from a nostril.
BUDDHA - A little closer…
* Interior shot of HOPE’s office in disarray. Table on side, floor and walls daubed in blood and an aircon vent torn out of the wall. HOPE stands in the centre shouting into a commlink.
HOPE What do you mean the specimen got out? It was dead!
* Exterior shot, campsite. JONES and CANCER very carefully gather up some ‘wiry moss’ from a wooden table.
* Exterior shot, the bush, night. A deep red glow lies eastward. The ground of this hellscape is cracked with fiery fissures and there is a dull roar of flame. Twisted tree trunks like discarded wire litter the floor.
WALLAROO - Let’s go there!
* Close up of BOMBER, surrounded by heat haze. The jet engine roar is louder now. BOMBER very carefully reaches for something out of camera view and suddenly a burst of flame obscures her.
* Shot in interior of lead and dirt lined Esky. Two glowing lumps of matter and a tightly sealed glass jar lie inside. A moss begins to creep from under the lid.
Episode 4, previously -
* Close up of WALLAROO’s Casio digital watch ‘WED - 07 06:52:26’. Camera zooms out to interior of BOMBER’s cab, then out to external shot of the stalkers driving down Nanatajira highway back to the sprawling Alice Springs with dawn breaking behind it, a trail of smoke rising from CapAcc Tower.
* Establishing shot of abandoned hotel followed by interior shot of wine cellar/ makeshift CapAcc base of operations. Suits everywhere. HOPE has set up a desk a midst the chaos.
HOPE - Xenophile hippies blew a hole in our tower... Thanks for the artifacts and your report, here's you payout.
* HazMat suits walk BUDDHA to the 'quarantine' coal cellar as the others give up samples of blood.
HOPE - ...and get me back BUDDHA's blood from DR KEEL!
* CANCER hitting the early morning streets croissant and short black in hand, asking for info on the bombing. Informants shake heads.*
* Establishing shot - Dr Keel's Clinic. Seemingly unoccupied with JONES dressed as a sparkie casing the joint.
* Large front window shatters as BOMBER reverses into it in BUDDHA’s ute. CANCER leaps into the flatbed grasping a bundle of sample tubes. Wheels sequel as the ute heads off with a heavily jaundice man in a dusty lab coat firing at the departing CANCER, an unusually dark shadow in the clinic behind him.
KEEL - Stop thief! Come back!
* Establishing shot of hotel, different from the previous one but no better presented. Sign outside says 'Todd River Basin Hotel.' Screen subtitle reads 'Sammy's Bar'*
* Interior of dilapidated and grimly bar. Sammy is cleaning glasses in the background and the stalkers are crowded around a wrinkled Anglo women in cargo pants, vest and digger hat.
DALBY - You want a guide? That's $2000 each, $1000 up front. Or $500 and keep my glass full for a consult…"
Episode 5, previously -
* Interior of a dive bar. WALLAROO is hunched over an older scarred man,
GARRISON - It's called Black Pudding see! Those kids from that weird church asked me to train them up on blowing stuff up!
* Evening. Exterior shot of a dilapidated Coles store, Pink neon reads 'CHURCH OF UNIVERSAL REASON' CANCER and JONES approach.
* Interior of Church of Universal Reason. DR KEEL and two menacing leather-clad figures lean over CANCER.
KEEL - Join us! We have the answers to all societies' ills! The Zone will set you free!
CANCER - No, the answer lies at the heart of the Zone!
* Interior, JONES' studio lit by the laptop. Store layout diagrams for the old Coles building appear on the screen. Text doc also open shows long list of company names with 'SHELL' written next to each. Underneath is written 'Wesfarmers?'
* Interior, BOMBER reads a book on the Burke and Wills expedition, frowns...
* Interior of coal shed, empty. Open door reveals confused guard looking at rapidly departing BUDDHA.
BUDDHA - Got to go, date night! Back later!
* Split-screen of HOPE and WALLAROO.
WALLAROO - Yeah, I've got his coordinates.
* Interior of a CapAcc secure cell. BUDDHA looks nervous.
* Night. Exterior shot of CapAcc Tower. Explosion rocks building followed by gunfire.
* Dark interior of office building fitted with basic medical equipment. CANCER wakes, moving oddly with a swollen belly he makes for the door...
Episode 6, previously -
* Underground in undisclosed location on the edge of the Alice Springs sprawl.
HOPE - I want proof as to who is behind this cult and the bombings!
* Hope pulls a dusty tarp aside revealing a battered military-grade jetpack
HOPE - Here's your distraction.
* Exterior shot
WALLAROO - Don't worry, I've got a plan.
* Shopping and gearing up montage!
* Exterior of Church of Universal Reason. Camera pans over rooftop and we see a jetpack wearing figure clinging to a skylight. WALLAROO is just inside the building with a large group of leather-clad cultists around him
WALLAROO - Tell me more of the liturgical symbology of your vestments...
* Camera tracks back and we see JONES walk straight past the distracted congregation and activates the fire control panel.
* CANCER sneaks past JONES, barely visible, as the roar of the sprinkler system and the peel of the fire alarm force everyone else out of the building.
* Interior of a guarded basement, DR KEEL cackles as he unveils an alien in an aquarium before BUDDHA and other cowering 'experiments'. Water pools around everyone's ankles as the sprinklers erupt.
KEEL - Speak! What does it say?
ALIEN - Freedom!
* Interior of Church of Universal Reason warehouse. JONES barricades a door with a pile of trolleys frustrating the cultists.
* Underground in a guarded basement. Glass shatters and the alien escapes as CANCER enters the room. Guns flash. KEEL falls and the others run out, BUDDHA pausing to hip-throw a guard.
* Exterior of Church of Universal Reason warehouse. WALLAROO and the H&SO are waving clipboards at cultists.
WALLAROO - Don't re-enter the building yet! Wait for a fire officer!
* Underground in a flooded tunnel. The ALIEN disappears down a drain in the floor as the others run up the stairs.
* Interior of Church of Universal Reason warehouse. Cultists break past barricade to confront the team, until BOMBER, wearing a jetpack, smashes through the skylight spraying glass and exhaust gasses everywhere.
* Panicked expression on BOMBER’s face.
* Exterior shot of Church of Universal Reason warehouse. Explosion. Smoke billows out of door and skylight. Slightly singed JONES, BOMBER, CANCER and BUDDHA sprint away.
WALLAROO - I told you.
Next season on Cyber Dark Space!
* Interior of cool, white office. HOPE and WALLAROO face off across a desk.
HOPE - You're a loose cannon Namatjira!
* Exterior skyscraper. CANCER is defenestrated from an impossible height in a shower of glass.
* Close shot of BUDDHA holding two fingers to his temple. He looks to camera as SFX mind-whammy rays radiate from his head.
* Exterior battlefield. JONES and BOMBER fire unnecessarily large belt fed machine guns while chewing on cigars. Explosions in background.
By Steve Dee
As a younger person I could never quite understand the rapid pace of output from the artists I would read about. It would seem at one moment they would be promoting their new movie and then barely a few months later they would be rumoured to be in pre-production for the next. What of course I was missing was the long cycle of post-production. This is a round-about way of saying that the last word of Relics was written almost two years ago, and that was the third rewrite. I am now mired in a game that will come out next year. I wonder if I even remember what Relics is about, let alone how what I was thinking when I made it?
I must try, nevertheless. You want to know where I got my ideas. Which ideas came easy and quickly, which came later. Which were hard to find and which were discarded on the path to the mountain. It is of course, even if I could remember, no simple calculus. No straight line of cause and effect, of destination and arrival.
I can tell you Relics began when I was about six years old and I saw an angel in a school nativity play, and they had a sword and the amazing authority that a nine year old has when you are six. I can tell you that Relics began when I read the Grant Morrison run on Hellblazer and felt like his take on Gabriel was just mean-spirited, with no other moral but to taint the idea that people can be morally good, simply because Morrison has beef with god-botherers. I can tell you that Relics began when I was several splat-books deep in research for a freelance job for White Wolf and thought to myself “this would be a million times easier if I had my own setting so I could make things up instead of looking them up in extremely dense books.” I’ve never been good at research.
Those origin stories are all equally true, but the first time the original ideas for Relics as a setting were born was when I had the privilege of living in and travelling across Europe in 2002 and 2003. Studying art history by being among it gives you a wonderful sense of how ancient some of the surviving ideas are, and how each new religion draws on the ones before, with symbolism folding back and back on each other. It was there that I fell in love with the tetramorph – the lion, the bull, the eagle, the man - and how those four symbolic angels had been repurposed as the figures of the writers of the New Testament’s Gospel. But it wasn’t until I was working on Vampire: The Requiem supplements in 2010 that I began writing down the basic concepts. The earliest file in my hard drive dates from 2012. Overall, the elements were mostly all in place by that point: fallen angels trapped on earth, and God sealing the gates of Heaven forever when She departed. Disconnected from their purpose, lacking in some part of themselves, they have to create their own meaning in a world that is alien to them.
The problem I have with setting design however is what I call the verbs. Nouns are easy, nouns are a bunch of people and organisations and rules and rule-breakers standing around in a room trying not to kill each other until they can be sure they’ll survive. That’s relatively easy setting design, at least for me. And plenty of games take that kind of approach: they are games that are descriptive of a world, leaving the players and storytellers to figure out what stories to tell. I however am a more practical man who likes his games to be not just a world but a clear kind of story, with structure and intent. One key thing that makes D&D so successful is that it’s always pretty clear what you’re trying to do: go into holes in the ground, kill things in the hole, take their stuff, buy healing potions, repeat. Call of Cthulhu has always had a key structure as well: find dead relative, go to library, see tentacles, die. It took me a few years to find
the verbs for Relics.
The answer was, surprisingly, in the television show Leverage, which is why the book is dedicated to the show’s creator John Rogers. I’ve always adored the heist genre, and it was instantly, obviously, the correct fit. If angels had been on earth forever, then they might find all their great and powerful tools had already been caught and catalogued, hidden in museums or warehouses and waiting to be stolen. Books like *Foucault’s Pendulum* and films like *Hudson Hawk *and *Indiana Jones* are all on the same principle: that museums hold the secrets.
It seems obvious; it always does in retrospect. In fact, the game was called Relics long before historical relics even appeared. (The original title was Reliquary but it was too hard to say; we also added “A Game of Angels” when we had to keep explaining it at conventions.) The idea of the name came from the theme of the game: of being forgotten, discarded, left to be just a memory, just history.
The link to *Leverage* was cemented when I worked on the *Cortex Hackers Guide* in 2014. I was called in to work on the Cortex Action rules which had appeared in the Leverage RPG. One of my jobs was to provide a setting where Cortex action suited; I submitted a stripped-down human-focussed version of Relics. At that point, I thought it was all I’d use the idea for. It tends to be how freelancing goes: you have a million ideas in your head already and you throw them out the best fit for the gig in question.
But afterwards I did begin writing rules for a Cortex game using the setting. It was going to be a Cortex setting for the longest time, using that systems idea of taking a die from several different categories to assemble your die pool for each test. This was about time that the tetramorph became the four key stats I wanted to use. At one point you were even rolling your Lion or your Eagle. I also had five stats built around angelic powers, such as Fire, Wings, Sword, Choir and Miracle.
One idea that I really liked in early versions was that angels had an inherent disability that marked them as fallen. In the final game this is just a cosmetic aspect of your character but in the Cortex rules I was originally going to cut out one entire statistic for each player. Some angels had no wings and could not fly. Some could no longer conjure fire. Some could no longer perform miracles. The idea was this would drive these loner types to depend on each other, and carry a sense of being broken, of not working properly. These angels were disconnected from heaven, and I wanted that to really hit players hard. To have a spot on your character sheet with an X through it, telling you that you could never do that thing. My own disability was part of that idea, trying to bring forth that sense of being cut off from something everyone else finds natural. That idea never made it, but you can see an echo of it in how only the Aryeh have the flaming sword, and so on.
The game went onto the back burner for a while when Shadow of the Demon Lord by Rob Schwalb came out. I really enjoy that game and its system, and wrote for it a lot. I think it does so much of what makes traditional RPGs so great in a much simpler, cleaner, more efficient way. It also came with four stats and four core classes, which are as much about play style and party composition than they are simulation, carrying that echo of party roles that was in 4E D&D. In my head, Relics reared back up again: I could link each class to each facet of the tetramorph. Plus the setting (and Rob Schwalb’s ethos) was dripping with religious ideas and influence. While I was working on supplements for that game, I pitched Relics to Rob as a game using his system. He was quite keen on the idea and in particular, with working with me. I think that Rob said that was why any of this happened. Rob believed in it, and that was enough.
Of course, the final game doesn’t use the Demon Lord system or anything like it. Something happened on the way to heaven, to quote Phil Collins. I wrote the first few chapters, and all of character generation, and much of the back story. I laid out the book and the contents, wrote some fiction. I even launched the game at a con with donated art, so I was here and ready to go. Now it was time to write the rules for each class. And it was an impasse. It became instantly clear I had neither aptitude nor desire to write any kind of crunchy rules text, nor to balance them or anything else. Something was missing.
For much of my life, I’ve run into this problem over and over again, feeling like I have only half the required skills or gifts. I’m great at making settings. I’m so good at it I wrote one a month for four years as a magazine column. But I can’t do rules. Can’t do fiction either, much (or so I thought). And there’s no money or even audience in worlds without games or fiction.
With a part missing, I appealed to my friends. Surely, I thought, somebody wants to be a co-designer? But nobody really did and to be honest, I am not someone really given to cooperation. Relics was perhaps doomed to fail because I was missing a vital piece, some element shut off to me forever more, because I just wasn’t good enough.
Of course, there was a happy ending when like a thunderbolt I realised the system in *Alas Vegas* was perfect for what I want to do. Again, the match seems obvious with hindsight. And so easy to bring together. Everything looks simple, easy and obvious after it’s done. But it was a long shot that took forever to find and seemed, so often, to be impossible and out of reach.
I also discovered that although nobody really wanted to join up with me to co-design, as soon as I started leading, people were eager to follow. Because once you can see the path, it seems a lot easier. Some of us though, aren’t born to just follow. Some of us, when the doors to the next world seem to close, have to reimagine a world anew, because there isn’t one that suits us to be found. Sometimes where we feel like we do not belong, it is because we are becoming something new. When we feel like we’ve lost connection, we find our own meaning.
Where do I get my ideas, people ask. I say: Relics is an autobiography.
By Lev Lafayette
It was Thomas Aquinas classified miracles into the three categories of being "above nature", "beyond nature", and "against nature", and in doing so both drew a distinction between the natural and supernatural, but also established the foundations of the metaphysical relationship between miracles that come from God and those from the Devil. Elaborating on the difference is the foundation of the relation between the Succubi, the Incubi and their human victims. Whilst the in-game statistical information is designed for Ars Magica (specifically the 5th edition) it is easily adapted to any other RPG which uses European Christian theology of some sort as a metaphysical principle for the game setting.
Why is this important? Because what we are dealing with in discussing Succibi and Incubi is an expression of the fundamental differences in supernatural powers that come from the angelic compared to the demonic. Certainly, there is plentiful historical references that places the demons in European speculative fiction. Here is a reference from Augustine:
"There is, too, a very general rumor, which many have verified by their own experience, or which trustworthy persons who have heard the experience of others corroborate, that sylvans and fauns, who are commonly called ‘incubi,’ had often made wicked assaults upon women, and satisfied their lust upon them; and that certain devils, called Duses by the Gauls, are constantly attempting and effecting this impurity is so generally affirmed, that it were impudent to deny it."
-- Augustine, The City of God, Book XV, Chapter 23
Augustine, in The City of God, is arguing against Roman pagans who saw their current misfortunes as a result of Christianity being made a state religion. Drawing upon the practises of certain mythological beings and assigning them to demonic titles is part of that marketing. But at this point we do not see why, apart from 'satisfying their lust' that incubi would engage in such a practise. For that we have to turn to Aquinis.
"Still if some are occasionally begotten from demons, it is not from the seed of such demons, nor from their assumed bodies, but from the seed of men taken for the purpose; as when the demon assumes first the form of a woman, and afterwards of a man; just as they take the seed of other things for other generating purposes, as Augustine says (De Trin. iii), so that the person born is not the child of a demon, but of a man."
-- Aquinas, Summa Theologia, Part I, Question 51, Article 3
This is quite important. At first, the Succubus, a demon in a female form, to posseses their victim and engage in sexual intercourse with them. Actually, the writings of the time from the victims often state that they simply couldn't move (you know, sleep paralysis), but when coupled (ahh, the puns) with dreams of intercourse, it can be suggested that the demons are not taking "no" for an answer. Indeed, in most cases they probably don't even have the honour and respect to ask the question.
However, this is only half of the story. The Succubus does this in order to collect "the seed" (to use the religious vernacular) from their human victim. Then, safely stored, the same demon transforms into an male-form Incubus to impregnate another human victim and thus provide for a pregnancy mediated by the demons. Why on earth would demons engage in such a convulated practise? The answer for this is found in The Malleus Maleficarum:
"But it may be argued that devils take their part in this generation not as the essential cause, but as a secondary and artificial cause, since they busy themselves by interfering with the process of normal copulation and conception, by obtaining human semen, and themselves transferring it....
Therefore bodies which are assumed in this way cannot either beget or bear.
Yet it may be said that these devils assume a body not in order that they may bestow life upon it, but that they may by the means of this body preserve human semen, and pass the semen on to another body....
Secondly, it is true that to procreate a man is the act of a living body. But when it is said that devils cannot give life, because that flows formally from the soul, it is true; but materially life springs from the semen, and an Incubus devil can, with God's permission, accomplish this by coition. And the semen does not so much spring from him, as it is another man's semen received by him for this purpose (see S. Thomas, I. 51, art. 3). For the devil is Succubus to a man, and becomes Incubus to a woman. In just the same way they absorb the seeds of other things for the generating of various thing, as S. Augustine says, de Trinitate 3."
-- The Malleus Maleficarum, Part I, Question III
According to the theological principles, it is only through the Creator that life my form. Devils just don't have the capacity to engage in mundane, let alone supernatural, miracles of creation. They can only destroy, not create. Whilst there is a plentiful supply of humans who turn towards evil, they are still empowered with the power of the creation of human life. The Succubi-Incubi can only steal and transmit.
Now, I know that some of you might be thinking this is a fine excuse on why the child of the young Élise the Milkmaid looks a lot like the strapping-fit Jean-Luc the Stablehand, when she is married to someone else. But medieval stories being what they are, under some strong questioning it will be revealed that Jean-Luc will agree that he was seduced by a Succubi, and indeed a red-faced Élise will give the other half of the story with her nocturnal experiences with the Incubi. "The Devil made us do it!"
It is worth pointing out that the Succubi and Incubi can be quite selective in their victims. They do want the human seed to be very strong and undergo the experience of percolating through a demon body for a while. It is the young, healthy, and fertile that is desired. Oh, and for what it's worth, sex with demons is awesome.
"...the children thus begotten by Incubi are tall, very hardy and bold, very proud and wicked. Thus writes Maluenda; as for the cause, he gives it from Vallesius, Archphysician in Reggio: “What Incubi introduce into the womb, is not any ordinary human semen in normal quantity, but abundant, very thick, very warm, rich in spirits and free from serosity. This, moreover, is an easy thing for them, since they merely have to choose ardent, robust men, whose semen is naturally very copious, and with whom the Succubus has connection, and then women of a like constitution, with whom the incubus copulates, taking care that both shall enjoy a more than normal orgasm, for the more abundant is the semen the greater the venereal excitement.” Those are the words of Vallesius, confirmed by Maluenda who shows, from the testimony of various Authors, mostly classical, that such associations gave birth to: Romulus and Remus, according to Livy and Plutarch... Plato the Philosopher, according to Diogenes Laertius and Saint Hieronymus; Alexander the Great, according to Plutarch and Quintus-Curtius... the emperor Cæsar Augustus, according to Suetonius... as also Merlin or Melchin the Englishman, born from an Incubus and a nun, the daughter of Charlemagne..."
-- Father Ludovicus Maria Sinistrari de Ameno, Demoniality, or Incubi and Succubi
Sample in-game information for Ars Magica, 5th edition. Characters will have additional abilities to those listed. Many will make use of Intellego Imaginem, and Muto Mentum spells to further enhance their abilities to seduce.
Infernal Might Corpus (20)
Characteristics: Int +1, Per +2, Pre +3, Com +3, Str +1, Sta +2, Dex +1, Qik +1, Siz 0, Age n/a, Confidence 1(3)
Virtues and Flaws: Lustful +3, Calculating +2¸ Charming +1
Combat: None, unless armed.
Soak: 0, unless wearing armour.
Fatigue Levels: OK, 0, -1, -3, -5, Unconscious
Wound Penalties: -1 (1-5), -3 (6-10), -5 (11-15), Incapacitated 16-20)
Abilities: Athletics 8 (especially of the "paired" variety), Awareness 4, Charm 10, Craft ("lovecraft") 8, Guile 8, Intrigue 5, Medicine 4 (especially ovulation cycles).
Change Sex: 0 points, Init +0, Corpus.
Transform Seed: Somethimg like a charged item (p96 core rules), something like a potion, the Demonic ability of Transform Seed requires the Succubus to hold human seed four phases of the moon, and then transform into an incubus for an additional four phases as the seed develops its new powers; specifically, the child so born as with demon blood (p84 Realms of Power The Infernal) and with wicked personality traits.
Unholy Methods (Major)
Debauchery (p84 Realms of Power The Infernal)