Monthly Archives: November 2014

No Strings Attached: A Noir Horror Adventure Setting with a Twist

The Great War revealed many truths the “modern” nations had pretended not to believe anymore. Perhaps if the Empire had not joined the fight, or if the Central Powers had failed to maintain and strengthen their Triple Alliance, things might have gone differently. But as it was by the time the British were introducing landships, the Central Powers had access to darker powers.

The most extreme battlefield reports are still attributed to shell shock and the panic of troops encountering chthonic horrors for the first time. Soldiers who fought in the field tend to be more credulous of even outlandish claims by those who fought in the war. Given what we now must all accept as real, who is to say that even werewolves and vampires might not have fought skirmishes in the War? They’d be too rare to make any difference now, but maybe they existed once.

But Marions are everywhere.

In many ways, they have a stronger and more obvious presence in mythology than anything that had previously captured the public’s eye in the west. The rituals of Caloian. Bocio. Daruma. Dogū. Haniwa. Hina. Kachina. Kokeshi. Nkisi. Pippies. Around the world, for thousands of years, they appear in legends and spellcraft. We told ourselves they were just toys. Made of cornhusk, clay, potatoes, apples, wood, and stone, we looked at what the Egyptians buried and the Romans gave children, and convinced ourselves they were no more than trifles and effigies.

We should have known better.

The first Marions were definitely from the Empire, cruel-looking creatures of wood and clay, with knife-hands and poison. They were used as assassins more than anything else and the capture of one, still moving and cursing, shook the Allied powers to their roots. Living puppets, powered by magic, that could think, and talk, and plan. That seemed to live until they were smashed to pieces.

It took months to find experts in the right rituals and prayers for Western powers to create their own. Anyone who had ever written about the unknown, traveled to the far east, or claimed to be able to read palms was suddenly a national asset. It was a chaotic time, as charlatans, scholars, madmen, and true practitioners were all rounded up and put to the test. It didn’t help that the four categories turned out not to be mutually exclusive. And as magic was taken seriously, researched, and codified, the Allies discovered that Marions were just the beginning. The bogeyman was real, and came in dozens of forms.

There were mistakes made in building a magician corps, from minor miscalculations to deadly disasters, even traitors. But in time, the Allies came to have their own practitioners, including the masterminders who could create Marions-to-order. Military technology soon took over. Marions are too small and weak to armor, so the idea of making them of iron or steel was quickly abandoned. Some success was found with wood and bakelite to make Marions that were light but still fairly strong, and thousands of those models were produced, but they were all too fragile to be soldiers. As assassins they served fairly well, but wood and plastic crack and shatter as easily as bone.

The Allies wanted to replace soldiers, especially in units tasked with facing “Bogeys,” the military versions of children’s bogeyman tales. No Marion could carry enough reinforcement to ignore a landmine, or even a good crack with the butt of a rifle. So rigid structure was abandoned. Marions don’t need bones any more than they need strings, and it was a seamstress from the Bronx who made the real breakthrough. Ragdoll Marions, made from lair after lair of knotted cloth, were terrifically resilient. Shooting one put a hole through it, but simply didn’t do enough damage to slow it down. Punching and kicking were useless. Knives were better, but good coiled rag has to be sawed through, and can’t be casually slashed apart. Since they didn’t bleed, and kept going until massively mangled, ragdoll Marions became the preferred design for Allied masterminders.

They were, of course, vulnerable to fire. A few elite units were formed from (or more commonly wrapped in) asbestos, but for some reason those Marions nearly always turned murderous or went rogue within a few missions.

Marion units were attempted, but since a Marion seemed to be limited to a yard or so in height, and some went rogue after seeing too much bloodshed and “rending” (as they took to calling their own injuries), most Allied units instead added a Marion or two in the same kind of capacity as radiomen and explosives experts. Bogey-Hunter squads often had significantly more, along with a scholar (which were spread so thin that everything from yellow journalism reporters to underage students to women were pressed into front-line service), at least one practitioner, one priest (often of no Abrahamic faith), one sensitive (since theosophy seemed to work differently from magic), and one skeptic (who was often second-in-command).

Tens of thousands of Marions were produced by both sides. Many had to be modified in the field, repaired with knapsacks, flags, military socks, and even confiscated stuffed animals. Rending might not kill a Marion, but it could slow one down and weaken it until stuffing was replaced and seams repaired. The resulting “patchworks” were less predictable, as each new material they incorporated changed their personalities and abilities and, occasionally, even their loyalties. But they were also veterans, and most soldiers who survived the war have at least one story that ends with a Patchwork Marion flinging itself on a grenade, or sitting up to keep watch all night every night, or stabbing a tommyknocker to death in a trench. Patchworks earned their comrades’ respect. And when the War finally ended, and a few thousand Patchworks came home, that respect lead to the “No Strings” act, giving Constructed Americans a path to earn rights and even citizenship.

It can be tough for a Patchwork to adjust to civilian life. Some take roles as children’s bodyguards for the rich, or private detectives. Others find fulfilling jobs as chimneysweeps, cobblers, shoeshines, and farm hands. A sad number turn to crime. And, of course, some still hunt Bogeys…

Giving Thanks

To my family, for supporting me even when they all (without exception) went for advanced college degrees they earned with honors, and I barely graduated High School because I wanted to tinker with games.
To my friends, who gave me a social network that kept me alive in the darkest days, made me laugh until I nearly peed myself on the best of days, and always, always explored new imaginary places with me.
To my fans, patrons, and customers. For proving my family was right to support me tinkering with games until I made it a career.
To Green Ronin, for giving me my first solo writing gig way back in 2002, and trusting me to be the shepherd of their precious Freeport just last year.
To Paizo, for valuing me enough to move me across a country, and giving me things like health insurance and paid days off for tinkering with their games.
To the people *of* Paizo, for welcoming into one of the most wonderful places I have ever worked, accepting me for who I am, and letting me sit at the table with some of the best and most talented game creators I have ever known.
To Stan! and Lj, for trusting me to head Rogue Genius Games.
And again to Lj, who is also family, a friend, and part of RGG, for being an amazing, trusting, supportive, caring, creative, beautiful, helpful, sharing partner, for 24 Thanksgivings so far.
Seriously, to you all.

Holiday Plans (Part 1, maybe of 1)

Dear Family and Friends,
Thanksgiving week is in many ways the real beginning of the Holiday Season for me. I love Halloween with a passion, but its impact on my schedule and mood pales in comparison to the Thanksgiving-to-New-Years run. So, here are some things about this holiday season I wanted to let people know.
Lj and I won’t be making a visit to Oklahoma for Christmas, as we had originally planned. Too many circumstances conspired to make it nearly impossible. I will miss family and friends dearly, but we just aren’t willing to deal with the repercussions such a trip would bring down on us this year. This is the best choice for us, and we are at peace with it. We have some wonderful friends here that have already invited us to Thanksgiving Dinner and two different “Leftovers Meals” gathers later that weekend, so don’t worry about us. Gathering with folks here for fun, food, games, and camaraderie is much more in keeping with how I want to spend the holidays than either airport terminals or sales that start at 5am on a day off work.
Speaking of Black Friday sales…
… Christmas. Specifically, presents.
With the possible exception of yet-unknown social events with blind gift exchanges, Lj and I aren’t doing Christmas gifts for family or friends this year, and we’d prefer family and friends not do gifts for us. The real point of the holiday spirit is to help those who are in need, to make room at the inn, so to speak. Instead of spending too much money on stuff no one needs, we are planning to spend what we can on angel tree gifts and a donation to a charity that provides farm animals, training, and small business loans to families both domestic and abroad.
This applies to fans as well. I got a slew of gifts from fans and patrons last year, and it moved me greatly, but I’m going to ask no one go to those lengths this year. If you’d really like to do something for us this season, spend time with your loved ones. Enjoy a game together. Do some volunteering together. Help someone near you who needs it. That will mean more to us than anything material you could buy for us.
None of this is in any way meant to be judgmental of what others do. I have had years with gifts piled to the rafters, and we may do it again some year. But this season, what Lj and I need most is some time off, together and with friends, some quiet and reflection, and the knowledge that we helped some people truly in need. That’s our gift to each other, and our focus for our spiritual needs this season. I hope each and every one of you finds the right celebration for your needs, spiritual and temporal. I plan to enjoy the holidays in part by not worrying so much about their financial impact this year, and hope that asking anyone who might get us something instead spend the time and resources that would take to do something fun and relaxing for themselves will spread a bit of holiday cheer without requiring postage.
So I wish everyone a wonderful winter season, and I hope whatever religious observances, social gatherings, and fun activities you have planned go better than ever. For those of you far away, I’ll miss you, but I know one year is a drop in the bucket of our lives. For those near, I hope we have many chances to laugh, play, and spend time together.
Have a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Yummy Yule, and whatever other expressions of friendship and joy I think of. 🙂

Pathfinder Class Spell Lists

Class Spell Lists
When designing Pathfinder-compatible spells, it’s important to know what classes get their own spell lists, what classes share a list and get mentioned in the “Level” entry (sorcerer/wizard), and what classes use another class’s list and don’t specially get called out in the “Level” entry (it’s “cleric” not “cleric/oracle” or “cleric/oracle/warpriest”).
The following classes (with a note as to their source) receive their own spell lists:
AlchemistAPG            Levels 1-6 (Not technically spells)
Antipaladin APG        Levels 1-4
Bard                   Levels 0-6
BloodragerACG           Levels 1-4
Cleric/OracleAPG*      Levels 0-9 (Listed only as cleric, unless it is oracle only)
Druid                          Levels 0-9
InquisitorAPG           Levels 0-6
MagusUM                Levels 0-6
Paladin                           Levels 1-4
Ranger                       Levels 1-4
ShamanACG              Levels 0-9
Sorcerer/Wizard*        Levels 0-9 (Listed as sorcerer/wizard except for single-class spells)
SummonerAPG           Levels 0-6
WitchAPG               Levels 0-9

These classes use the list of one or more other classes
ArcanistACG, uses sorcerer/wizard                  Levels 0-9
HunterACG, uses both druid and ranger           Levels 0-6
Investigator ACG, uses alchemist                      Levels 1-6 (Not technically spells?)
SkaldACG, uses bard                                         Levels 0-6
WarpriestACG, uses cleric                                Level 0-6

*Rare examples exist of a spell for only one of these classes, such as mnemonic enhancer for wizards and oracle’s burden for oracles. Such spells almost always are linked to a mechanic strongly tied to the class it is restricted to.

Birthdays and Anniversaries 44% off sale!

Birthdays and Anniversaries 44% off sale!

It’s been a heck of a year. I just celebrated turning 44. I got hired by Paizo, oversaw projects for Green Ronin, and moved to Seattle. Rogue Genius Games is celebrating its first year. A sale is definitely called for. Since a 1% off sale isn’t much of a celebration, for this year only we’re doing a 44% off sale for the month of November! Everything we’ve published as of Nov 1 is 44% off for just this month.

44 years. 44% off. If there is anything of ours you’ve ever even considered getting, NOW is the time to get it!
We’re running the sale at Paizo, DriveThruRPG, and Shop.D20PFSRD!