Saturday, July 31, 2021

Maximalist Weird Fiction Mercenary Contract Generator Appendix E: Stability Actions Section 1

Summary: I ended up spending a lot of time expanding and embellishing this section today; as a result I have ten contracts ready (technically eleven, but one of them’s really just a link that I thought was appropriate) but another 15 roughs to edit. I’ll continue editing bright and early tomorrow but I’ll post the 10/11 I’ve got so far right now, since I said I would do a post tonight.
Thank you.

A: Investigations: High-risk detective work
B: Special Reconnaissance: Physical surveillance in hostile conditions
C: Military Intervention: Direct action in support of allied military activities
D: Military Assistance: Train, lead, advise and inspire allied military and/or security forces
E: Stability Actions: Ensure that a vulnerable polity, individual, or process thrives by engaging with threats on its behalf
F: Counterconspiracy: Social infiltration and undercover proactive security
G: Counteroccult: Hunt strange creatures, assassinate occultists, minimize the fallout of occult catastrophes, counter malign entities, and safeguard items and places of cosmic provenance
H: Influence Operations: Persuade, influence, subvert and deceive under delicate and/or hostile circumstances
I: Extractions: Recover personnel and assets from hostile forces and other dangerous situations
J: Civil Relief: Prevent atrocities, relieve suffering in cut-off areas, and set up systems of sustenance and protection for people who are under threat of deprivation and violence

Contract Index
Assist & Advise
New Government
The Ruins of Tessa Abar (SAAANG1TROTA)
Storm Season (SAAANG2SS)
A Mythic Struggle (SAAANG3AMS)
Security Commission  
Differing Sins (SAAASC1DS)
Energy Crisis
The Grid (SAREC1TG)
The Dam on the River Pine (SARD1TDOTRP)
The Place of Seduction (SARD2TPOS)
Deadfall (SARD3D)
Deus Ex Machina, Quid Pro Quo (SARF1DEMQPQ)
Bower Beast (SARF2BB)
Malignant Growth (SARF3MG)

Assist and Advise
New Government
The Ruins of Tessa Abar (SAAANG1TROTA): A massive occult complex from a headier age. A golden age cradled among rivers of rock. The dwellers cultivated the minds in the stars and embezzled power intended for the whole world. Infinite power, infinite progress, infinite ascension. The builders are gone. It was inevitable.

Surface and subterranean, the ruins have been settled by the people of many states in this modern age. Exiles, explorers, freeholders, heretical artisans. This is a refuge, and becoming a community, but its codes are weak and its stones are soaked by the blood feud.
You have been hired by a hermit to bring rudimentary order to Tessa Abar and get their fundamentals set up. Agriculture, mining, masonry. Decorating this place so as to attract real settlement. This is a six-month contract.

Lest you think you are bringing order where it is not wanted, know that Tessi Abar will fall without professional backbone and the ties that bind a city-state. There are reasons this world is settled in city-states even into the Industrial Age. Antediluvian things remain in the deep reaches of the earth, the water, the forest. Things that are unkillable or to whom bullets are pinpricks. And there are the hearts of men.

There will be a crisis every 15-45 days.
1. Thieves: One or more thieves make their way into the complex, pilfering anything of value or seeking a great treasure (that is precious to the players or integral to the identity of Tessa Abar’s nascent community).

2. Mutineers: A faction within the complex seeks dominance and plots a violent uprising that begins with a decapitation attack aimed at the current government- and the players. Options: Anarcho-Syndicalists (1) / Noble pretender and supporters (2) / Occult awakening among residents (3) / Nationalists from a particular city-state who want to bring Tessa Abar into the fold (4) / Infiltrators from a hinterland monastic society who join expeditions, caravans or transports before murdering everyone once underway and taking everything of value back to their secret hold (5)

3. Bandits: One or more gangs of bandits have taken a liking to the region and have constructed camps in the hills. They are totally satisfied with extorting the settlers of Tessa Abar for food and treasure, but are more of an ambient menace than an existential threat.

4. Raiders: A force of determined, heavily-armed men are making their way to Tessa Abar and are intent on: seizing occult booty (1) / sanitizing this place of occult taint via napalm and demo charges (2) / enslaving the vulnerable occupants (3) / following in the footsteps of the architects of Tessa Abar (4). The raiders may be independent actors, they may be a strike force from a city-state, or they may be the war party of a hostile tribe.

5. Horde of Interlopers: Search ‘Apocalypse of Interlopers’ in the city-state generator post and roll.

6. Invaders: A city-state has sent its army to destroy the people of Tessa Abar, who represent an unpredictable and uncontrolled element in their geopolitical situation. The city-state sends an infantry or dragoon force bolstered by: Blister gas artillery (1) / Tanks (2) / Dive bombers (3) / Infiltrators who have taken root in Tessa Abar long before (4) / Elite superheavy motorized grenadiers in small arms-effective plate armor (5)

7. Xenostygians: Civilizations which diverged from surface life long ago. They more or less always have strange and marginal, even desperate means of sustenance beneath the earth, and their cultures have mutated drastically from the norm of the surface to adapt to life in the extremes of the underworld. 

8. Viroalien Xenostygians: These are xenostygians who have been sealed from the surface for so long that their bacterial and viral profiles differ radically from distant civilizations. This means that physical meetings will be catastrophic for both sides, with plagues more deadly than those suffered by New World civilizations after contact with the Old. The xenostygians may or may not be aware of this factor at the opening of contact; if they are, they are likely to attack from a distance and potentially wear bizarre meshes and skins of subterranean creatures which are intended to shield them from infection. 

9. Creature: A lone example of a monstrous clade that is unknown and/or impossible to understand or account for. Shooting this thing to death using small arms may or may not be possible; it is likely that to prevent it from becoming a threat, one must employ explosions, cave-ins, entrapments, firestorms, unique poisons, direct artillery fire or similar measures beyond close combat, which such beings may have experienced for millennia and be far more specialized in than humans.

10. Corporeal Interloper: The physical manifestation of an entity that does not figure into this world’s ecology. May enter from an unknown universe; in this case, its physical form is likely to be an approximation or a chassis constructed for the purpose of housing something that does not obey the rules of this universe’s energetic subsystems. May arrive on a colonial asteroid, or from an barely-imagined source within the core of the earth. Example motivations: Imperial / Colonial / Animal / Deconstructively Exploratory / Hedonistic

11. Incorporeal Interloper: As a corporeal interloper, but nonphysical. Likely to require some form of trickery, persuasion or, God forbid, the use of the occult to mitigate or destroy.

12. Entity: An incorporeal intelligence that is interested in mankind or interested in our environment. Its motivations are limitless but generally involve offering power or security to humans in exchange for specific behaviors; this is how it shapes our realm. Manifestations are varied but include: nature spirits, voices in mirrors or sewers, things claiming to be deities, ghosts in darkness, strange weightless assemblies of light and shape, utterly disembodied waves of sensation or suggestion. They do not have a common origin.

13. Imperial Antediluvian: A creature that was an important figure in an empire that existed before explicit recorded human history. May possess disturbing knowledge about the nature of humanity’s history in this world; it’s generally assumed by historians that humanity has experienced a more or less steady increase in technology with a few well-known setbacks, but this may not be the case. This figure may tell you that humanity was once more advanced than it is today, but lived under the proper guidance of the higher form of life- its form. It seeks to reconstruct its old empire and/or cult with humans as its pawns, even if its empire never involved humans in the first place.

14. Extracosmic Manifestation: An entity or energetic projection that generally corrupts and rewrites reality in its vicinity.

Storm Season (SAAANG2SS): The Clans of Musillar have finally been united into a real tribe. With the coming of his first silver hair, King Nazaliga has been elected for a rule that will last until the dying of his last black hair.

Each clan has its own culture, its own land, and with each, its own issues. Many are skeptical of this new tribe. Many joined only after great bribery or coercion. Many feel that they were getting along just fine without a tribe, and are on the fence about whether or not they will remain. 
You have been hired by the tribal confederation’s council of shamans as neutral, nonsuspect mediators and troubleshooters. Get buy-in from the clans by advising them, persuading them, and solving their problems with them. If one or two clans leave the tribe, you will not fail this operation. Your objective is to stabilize a solid core of clans for the long haul.

The Clans: 
1. The God-Uniters: They build a temple to every god they encounter or hear of. They even have temples to some spirits that they have defeated; these are places or propitiation or prisons of the banished one’s spiritual power. King Nazaliga is from this clan and they are objects of great suspicion within the tribal confederation.

2. The Exoskeletals: The people of this clan bind the bones of large lizards and aurochs to their bodies using everything from twine to net to leather. These bones are intricately graven and notched so as to mount a variety of bone-set tools that can be inserted and removed through a several-step locking process. This allows the members of this tribe to clad themselves in armor, weapons, stilts, agricultural tools, elaborate festival costumes, religious regalia or peddler’s wares as required.

3. The Bat Armorers: These cave people were once shallow xenostygians but over the generations were goaded and teased out until they live half under the earth and half under the sun. Their nitrate caves are inhabited by mighty blood bats of 8’ wingspans which the Bat Armorers have developed a symbiotic relationship with: they ride and guide these bats to the pastures of nearby clans and city states, where the bats drink their fill of the cattle before the Armorers shear off their share of bled meat and devour it or carry it back to their cavern roosts. The Bat Armorers are so named for the articulating bulletproof armor with which they clad the bodies and wings of their animals, which they forge from nuggets exposed in their caverns. The Bat Armorers are regarded as valuable war allies but a nuisance to the herds by the other clans.

4. The Starshield Clan: The members of this tribe live in chambers graven from the skin of a mountain where they hold windy retreats around campfires built of piny deadfall. They cultivate roots in the darkness and cast them on the fire where they sit, and in visions and dreams their souls depart for the deadplane and the realm of auroch angels. Their service is in interfacing with the deadly high-spirited gods, and in holding back the plague of cursed spirits that mar the upward endeavors of man on earth, from the erection of his barn to the erection of his penis. The other clans resent the Starshields for the amount of food they consume without giving back anything material, despite recognizing the need for their endeavor.

5. The Grain Guardians: The agriculturalists and human scarecrows of the tribe, the fields of the Guardians are locked within the misty valleys and ashen forests of a high hinterland to which the ways confuse all oncomers. Those approaching their realm will be met with portents of horror: eyes watching from shapes draped in bog filth, burnt and bloodied alien effigies of wicker, rickety moving men in the baking light of evening that detach themselves from posts and amble towards the onlooker. Moaning bodies draped in viscera, thunderclap traps, processions of savage troglodytes draped in antediluvian arms. These will greet the trespasser.
All this in compassion. The Guardians have a great reverence for life despite the terror they inflict upon interlopers, and will only kill in direct self-defense or when pilfered field-fruits are about to cross the border in the hands of thieves. Their sport and passion is to scare off all potential takers, from superstitious clansmen to out-of-sorts urbanites. This world is possessed of enough natural terror that the practiced legerdemain of the Guardians is a matter of utter repulsion for most outsiders. The Guardians supply much of the grain for trade within the confederacy, but they are despised by warlike people for their trickery and their refusal to send their men to war except in case of direct invasion of their misty vale.

6. The Bloodline Clans: Each youth of this clan is ritually exposed to a particular substance from an early age, beginning with vanishingly small amounts and ending in megadoses. Over time among the megalithic formula-graven fencehalls of the Bloodlines, the bodies of the clansmen transform until not only are their bodies immune to the ravages of whatever substance they manifest, it inheres in their *blood* so that when they are cut, they produce that which they have imbibed across their lives.
Blood effects upon exposure to oxygen (1 per individual):
1. Congeals into a semi-solid substance: this is useful for the creation of ropes or sealing other people’s wounds
2. Becomes acidic enough to melt rock
3. Is made ready for ignition: burns as napalm/thermite blend
4. Is made ready for ignition: explodes as liquified plastic explosive
5. Entheogen: incapacitates for 2d6 hours
6. Entheogen: those touched by the blood fall down and enter the Godplane

Each clan is also facing a crisis that draws their attention from tribal matters:
1. Gambling is rooting deeper and deeper into the culture of this culture. People are betting on absolutely everything and the temple of the trickster god has become a veritable casino. This is severely disrupting the social fabric and economic underpinnings of this clan; wealth is concentrating in the hands of the trickster priests (who often spend it on harebrained boondoggles and ceremonies) and of a few highly-talented gamblers (and their enforcers). People are beginning to offer their children or their own freedom on bets; useful people are reduced to pauperdom and become pariahs. In spite of all this, being willing to bet is regarded as a certain sign of courage and moral fiber.

2. The clan has developed a close relationship with a city-state and has been trading heavily with it. As a result, the clan has taken on both the advantages and the disadvantages of civilization in an unconstrained way. The warriors go about with submachine guns and hand grenades draped from them so thick they’re like dark bunches of grapes, but many have become obese from cake and chocolate, and the specter of heroin is falling like a life-stealing shade over the tribe’s erstwhile ploughmen. The solution of giving them stimulants to restore life to them has been a program of mixed results.

3. The roots of the trees in the clan’s ancestral heartlands have developed a malign means of sustenance. The largest trees send a huge root cracking from the earth in a ripping of tiny strands, proceeding to wrap around the leg of an unfortunate clansman (normally breaking it in several parts) and dragging him into the ground to fertilize the forest. The small trees send a reedy root up into the leg of passersby, rooting them, drugging them and sucking their blood until nothing but a wizened husk lays peaceably upon the soil. Those who climb trees to avoid their fate are shaken from their refuge.
This is caused by: a sudden mutation (1) / a furious or recently-awoken nature spirit (2) / the occult powers of an enemy (3)

4. The tribesmen have begun to transform. Each man, woman and child is proving to be a chrysalis, but for what, no one knows. No one has reached the apogee of this transition yet. Something is growing within everyone. Those furthest along in the transformation transform at the level of their bone structure to accommodate something inside; their torsos elongate, their shoulders and hips widen, they seek to lay on their backs. They become lethargic. They seek warmth and sun. Eventually they will go into comas. What will come next? What will emerge?:
A young, hairless version of the one who became a pupa, with all memories; 10 years are subtracted from his or her age. This tribe is now possibly biologically immortal (1) / a superpowered angelic form with mighty thews, lepidopteric wings, eagle claws, telepathy (but not mind-reading) and eyes that burn with actual blue fire; they become highly intelligent but lose all empathy with those who are not mutagenic angels (2) / A giant wingless subterranean eel-wasp segmented in chitin; the human chrysalis was simply its means of implanting its spawn, which is conducted out of the earth and into human hosts by symbiotic sand fleas (3)

5. There has recently been a proliferation of this clan’s warrior lodges. Traditionally there were just a few, each having a spirit animal whose qualities were expected to be embodied in the warrior-member, and by and large this served its social function. Members of the Lion lodge were expected to be strong, cunning, ferocious in battle but otherwise to avoid exertion; members of the Wolf tribe engaged in dominance disputes (rarely resulting in bloodshed) but to fight as a highly-flexible unit capable of outflanking enemies on its own; the Falcon lodge engaged in sniper attacks and motorcycle jousting when not dining, washing themselves or hang gliding.
The clan once knew what to expect. Now there has been a fashionable explosion of self-selecting lodges. It began with the all-female Praying Mantis lodge, which has since been eradicated, but more lodges have popped up at the very edge of permissibility. The Spider Wasps. The Ticks. The Magpies. The damnable Platypi. Now the last straw: it is rumored that a ‘Bonobo lodge’ is meeting in the woods at night. The original three warrior lodges are ready to commit a bloody purge of all these latecomers, which would wipe out a good deal of the clan’s young population.

6. This clan has developed a cultural fetish for the city-states, attempting to capture their mana through emulation. They are constructing branch-and-daub office buildings in the forest using great old trees as corner foundations, wearing rawhide three-piece suits, constructing carts that can be lowered *around* teams of horses as a form of internal engine. 
This is alienating the shit out of the other clans, but the upshot is that in emulating the bureaucratic rigmarole perceived by the clan’s shamans when visiting the nearest city-states, the clan has actually managed to codify its oral legal traditions and create a central apparatus for the milling of grain and the salting of meat. As a result, slowly but surely, this clan is prospering and gathering more and more excess which it can use to hire the labor of nearby hunter-gatherers or pay for advantageous dowries. This *further* alienates the other clans and they are on the verge of launching a debellatio raid on the ‘city-bringers’.
(I wanted to call this contract the Ring of Flagons Past but did not)

A Mythic Struggle (SAAANG3AMS): The City of Crynel has been conquered.

The civil religion, the government, the world of arts. All had become occult.

The people gave their hearts to a spirit’s voice, a gilded monster-prophet, or a foreboding seance. This was the casus belli. Bevelwind overthrew Crynel intent on righting the occult wrong lest it unravel time and space, as it has so many times before.

Crynel was given a new government made up of unbelievers in the occult. Many of them are Crynelites who traveled abroad when the occult spread in their society. They have little in common with the people of Crynel now.

Crynel’s traditions are now centered around the occult, or activities that attract the attention of disembodied eyes.

The new government of Crynel is fraying. They are failing. The people disregard them. They carry effigies through the streets. Effigies that seem to be made of streaming paper, but are not. That burn within and brook no shadow. Whose carrying poles shift ever so slightly and drink the voices of the men who carry them. Processions of whispered shouts. 

There have been attacks. Officials cast into disappearing wells of singing soft crystal. Patrolling soldiers elongated until invisible. Bloodhounds leading detectives through remote doors that are gone once they pass the transom.

You must bolster the government. You must end the popular reversion to the occult. Guide them away from it no matter how hostile they might be to being guided. Give them something better or lead them to it. And if the quasar priests send die-hards against you even after the populace has seen the light, lethal force is authorized.

Security Commission
Differing Sins (SAAASC1DS): You have been hired by a security commission to guard against occult threats in their city-state.

The threat will come from the past.

The sarcophagi have been communicating. Coordinating. Establishing energetic links.

The sarcophagi contain the spirits of prominent people from the city’s warlike past. When the world was the enemy of the city-state. An age of plumes, crests, heroes and trumpets. Of crucifixion, slavery, decimation and raptio.

If you enter a subterranean mausoleum in the necropolis beneath the city, you will find that you can move between them in the darkened recesses. But one corner in one sarcophagus leads to the fastness of the spirits. Beyond, you are in their realm, and you will see what they want you to see: the pinnacle point of the shining city on the hill, or the abyssal torture chambers of a Tartarus beneath the temple of war. They await you with sword and javelin.

The great ones will begin to influence the city. Their voices will reach those coming to pray in the necropolis. They will enter the mausoleums. Pass the sarcophagi. Enter the shadow fastness. Emerge in a gleaming temple hall of the golden age of victory. The great ones will speak to their descendants. They are the real great ones. But they cannot leave the mausoleums. Moderns must carry on their legacy.

The great ones are concerned. The modern state has lost wars against ancestral enemies. They have been eclipsed by those who were once barbarians and traders. The men lack virility. The women are like banshees. The soldiers are soft as hares. Something must be done.

The great ones exhort those who visit them: true security can only be found in empire. Lasting peace can only grow from victory.

Cosmopolitan informers like the players must be purged.

Should the fastness of the greats be breached, they will draw their sarcophagi together into a great marble juggernaut and go on a rampage in the city that has so vastly betrayed their legacy. Those within will emerge into the shrinegut of an all-crushing funerary colossus, or the rubble of its remnants should the thing have been defeated in their absence. 

Energy Crisis
The Grid (SAREC1TG): An arrangement of radiant or cosmic energy has allowed an entity to develop inside of or otherwise inhabit the power grid of a city. In the former case it naturally regards the power grid as its body; in the latter case, it is using it as a receiver for energetic projections from outside the planet or our reality.

The city is located in an arctic tundra and relies upon its power system for survival; if the power were to die, the turbines of the power plants would freeze solid in short order (their insulation having decayed through a cavalier attitude engendered by the city’s remoteness).

The entity controls the city’s power grid like an AI and is capable of redirecting, denying or surging power with respect to anything connected to the grid. Attempts to curtail the entity’s reach by dismantling the power grid have been met with massive surges capable of spreading through the actual ground near the conduit in the manner of a lightning strike. Those who show no signs of intending to interfere with the entity are left alone unless they belong to the city government, in which case they (and possibly everyone around them) are electrically assassinated.

You have been hired to find a way to rid this entity from the power system without allowing the city’s central turbines and capacitors to fail.

A group of electrospeculators arriving in the city complicate matters. They are not exactly occultists because they do not possess pactmade powers, but they predicted the coming of the electroentity and supplicate themselves to gain information from it. They do not want the players to figure out how to cleanse the entity from the power grid (though they may be the ones who hold the information the players would need to do that), and they will cooperate with the entity to attempt to trap and eliminate the players; it’s hard to win a gunfight when half your body is numb from an ambient shock, or when you can’t remove your hand from a live wire and your skin is smoking and peeling off. Curtains of copper wire or unexpected steel plates will be as deadly as any laser trap.

The entity will be restricted to the power grid when the players first arrive, but the electrospeculators will become its hands in the world, and eventually they will begin constructing a thickening hive of tesselating metal inside an abandoned (or murderously cooped) hangar.

The electrospeculators are divided in their intentions and expectations. Some believe that they are helping the entity escape the world and that it will take them with it but destroy the city as the entity is ripped from local existence; the others believe that they are helping the thing become a mini-Monad which will pour life into all those who are present.

In truth: 
1. The escape situation is correct.
2. The Monad situation is correct.
3. The entity is having the electrospeculators construct a physical chassis for the full energy being to inhabit and operate; once it does so it will be released from its physically inert state and will be able to work its plans on the earth.

The Dam on the River Pine (SARD1TDOTRP): The Red Charter Companies, an organization of piratical resource-resellers, have built a hydroelectric dam upriver of the verdant Maniford river valley. This is severely disrupting the traditional river channels of the valley- a natural irrigation system- and is causing a massive drought with a drying up of village wells and impending starvation of Maniford proper.

The Red Charter is laying power lines to several unscrupulous city-states in the region and is extorting the Maniford government; they will increase the flow of water from the Pine River (above the valley) in exchange for massive payments. In the meantime they’ve massively fortified the dam, and it bristles with machine gun pillboxes, flak cannon roosts and mortar pits.

Maniford would prepare a military intervention but they are well aware of the Red Charter’s modus operandi. The extortionists are fully willing to dynamite the dam should their situation become untenable. The dam was built largely using slave labor; it’s no skin off their teeth to collapse their asset, take their profit, and head upriver in their armored steamers and seaplane bombers.

They require the services of an elite squad. You are to infiltrate the dam by force or guile, disable or knock out the flak cannons, and then prevent the Red Charter from detonating the dam by any means necessary while Maniford launches an aerial assault on the dam with paratroopers landing in the forest from either side while fighters strafe the remaining defenses. Stand the Red Charter off from their explosives or detonators until the paratroopers can reach the dam proper, encircling the enemy where they are concentrated around your position. If you are forced to give up your defense and driven from the dam, notify the paratroopers and a squadron of Manifordish fighter-bombers will make a terminal approach, hopefully destroying the dam before the Red Chartermen can get fully clear of it.

If you are able to secure the hydroelectric dam for Maniford, you will receive a large bonus because they will be able to execute the Red Charter plan of selling electricity to nearby city-states themselves. Maniford is a center of luxury furniture; one of the stipulations of the complete contract is that Maniford will award you staterooms within the dam that were previously occupied by Red Charter officers and fully redecorate them, as well as providing you ownership of a large steel supply cage that is integral to a maproom adjoining the staterooms. This facility will be guarded by Maniford 24/7 as part of the hydroelectric dam’s security program.

The Place of Seduction (SARD2TPOS): The little rivers of the Heroön Coast are drying out at last. Travel into the high desert, to the Gardens of Anomie, and restore the angelic waters that once baptized the heathen coast.

Deadfall (SARD3D): This scenario is about Theoseveria, the Radiant Death-Vaults of the Dukes Judicial. You can find a description of it here.

The realm is drying up with the twin death of the monarch and the monarchy. Now the forests grow hotter by the month. The deadfall is like a blanket of driftwood. The forests belong to the Dukes now. The farmers may not gather their wood. They are cut off from the forest spirits. Their traditional relationship no longer balances the realm. The spirits recede.

The leaves fall. They do not regrow. The sun shines dangerously orange and raw through the naked fingers of the trees.

You’re being hired by a logging magnate in the town of Loamspar to ascertain exactly why the woods are drying out and to find a solution to it. The truth may be hard for the PCs to believe and thus to accept. This is a worthwhile element to explore.

The leadership of the king is lacking and this is what is curling the bark and cracking the rock of Theoseveria. With the dying of the kingship, so too departs the kingdom’s anima; the nature spirits. Only squabbling, grasping dukes remain.

Short of the creation of a new principality, the problem may be insoluble. The burghers and the nobles are complicit in Theoseveria’s system of judicial mass combat, winner take all. The peasants feed the kingdom but cannot fight on the court pitches. Should you find it impossible to install a just king who could make an accord with the forest spirits, you could lead the peasants on an exodus from the kingdom. The Dukes and burghers would not let them go willingly. They would have to pawn their whole wealth in a year to buy enough food to eat.

Should the players attempt to convince the forest spirits to come with them, roll to determine the nature of the spirits:
1. The spirits are intrinsically bound to the land and its human administration; they cannot leave it.
2. They were born of the region’s fertility and have remained as it declined. They are helping to drain the region due to their displeasure; it is irrelevant whether or not they can leave.
3. They are movable spirits and could depart at their pleasure, but know nothing of the nearby biomes.
Given an alliance between the spirits and the players, the spirits can control forest fires and local rift-splitting earthquakes in the soft root-riveted earth.

Deus Ex Machina, Quid Pro Quo (SARF1DEMQPQ): Grassy, verdant hills. Butter, beef, mutton, kid. Houses of tanning and salt.

Men are driving the stock into caverns. They belong in the smokehouse or the export market. The buyers must know why the wares are walking into the earth. They are your client now. There is a yearlong per-head commission should you restore the situation to normality.

There is a new bazaar now. It is beneath the earth. It is disguised as a shrine. The drovers bring their saleable head here and leave them. They know the flesh will be devoured by their benefactor, Gazmbadrax. He is a great beaked orb with a hundred equidistant legs and a thousand red equidistant eyes. He perches in the shadows in the cavern above the wall. He is their terror and their savior. He speaks with the voice of a dozen men and in his word is law.

There are many hypnotic entities and blood-freezing monsters in this world. This is not one of them. It is an elaborate puppet voiced by four men riding inside of it who manipulate limbs by brushing against handles and shout lines in unison that the captain has written on a chalkboard. Gazmbadrax’s innards are lit by a bituminous coal margarine candle that gives the deity’s eyes a bloody light.

Gazmbadrax’s word is good. The herds of the entire range were threatened by skilled rustlers who murdered whatever sentries the ranchers left out at night, even little shepherd boys. The drovers fell on their knees and besought Gazmbadrax with tears in their eyes as their herd shifted and hissed.

The rustlers were delivered to the ranchers on their knees, their foreheads to the earth, their hands outstretched holding their own skins in neat bundles.

A tribe from Quiverfault Hollow arose from their tectonic swamp, snakereed switches in hand. The outlying freeholders died in their beds, marked and bloated. Their herds and steel vanished with their lives.

The whole tribe died of cholera, white slop leaking from their anuses. Generations of knowledge about which waters could be tapped could not help them. Betrayed in detail by their sacred waters.

A fever passed among the hills. The boys and girls bled sweat and burned like pomegranates. The ranchers went out in their nightshirts and carried white calves to the shrine of Gazmbadrax. The deity scolded the men for sacrificing children to save children. It bade them return the calves to their mothers and only bring big, fat, healthy cattle from then on. 

A day passed. The children suffered. The parents prayed to Gazmbadrax.

The sun rose. A shining stone of unknown sky-blue steel stood like a stela before the great dining rock where the ranchers held their nighttime revel-receptions in better days. The pale tails of twenty four cave scorpions lay upon the stone. A tincture glowing gold lay effervescent inside the telsons. A disc of chert sat central, acid-etched with the words “Into the suffering shoulder.”

Not one child died.

The ranchers *believe*.

They are not evil men. They understand what it means to consort with the supernatural in so much of the world. They are unwilling to entertain investigators. 

The cryptostygian shrine is a conduit to many underworlds. The ones touched by the emptiness here lack for nothing but food. They are fed by lifelines like this one. They are not interested in being known.
Black-hooded shepherds walk the hills at night. Their clothes are not cloth. Their staves are not sticks. It is not the herds that they shepherd. On the rare occasion they are seen, they are said to be watchful ancestor spirits. They are not. They are scouts.

If you *will not leave* the shepherds may try to force you. They are reluctant to kill you.

The cryptostygians are not. They will bring to bear fungal misters whose cells will clog your every pore and edifice before expanding with heat and moisture. Supertorsioned plate assemblies that will knock down houses with a supersonic shockwave when released upon one another. Coal dust mines that will billow their filthy powder through the air before detonating it. A bomb that fills the vicinity with webs before releasing hundreds of venomous spiders a few moments later. (“A deep, moaning scream erupted from his very soul”)

The ultimate intentions of the cryptostygians should be determined late in the adventure. Here are three potential RNG outcomes:
1. Reciprocal: The cryptostygians are more or less on the level; as long as the ranchers continue to provide them with their product, the cryptostygians will continue to protect them from existential threats. Once introduced, they may have offers of work for the players, either in the underworld outside of their domain, or by going after legends they have pertaining to the surface. Just because the cryptostygians are reciprocal with the ranchers doesn’t mean they are with other underworlders; they may send the players on an “embassy” into a deeper stygian community to spread germs for which the deep stygians have no immunity. Furthermore, if the players insist upon cutting off the cryptostygians from their cattle supply, they may still be willing to invade the surface to guarantee their freedom from starvation.
2. Mercantile: The cryptostygians will attempt to cut the players in and ask them to arrange new lines of supply similar to this one. This is a silver-or-lead kind of offer; the merchants are well-armed but their warriors are not as numerous as a settled community.
3. Slash-and-burn: The cryptostygians will gradually make greater demands of the herds until they are exhausted; then they will demand live humans. They are not picky about where the offerings come from, but if the ranchers ever can’t or won’t deliver further sacrifices, the cryptostygians will rise up and take them all beneath the earth before collapsing the shrine entrance and moving on.

Bower Beast (SARF2BB): The crops of Tulana are being devoured. The fields are rent and the orchards shivered. There are tracks of torn rich soil in the meadows between the mountains and the farmlands.
There is a castle of color in the mountains. The farmers have espied it from far away. They dare not approach. It is a cradle of rock that is laden with light like a bower cornucopia. 

You have been contracted to discover what has become of the crops and what is the nature of the castle in the mountains.

It is like a modern art piece. It is stone stacked as if by storm giants but crowning the crenellations like gold on teeth are the crops of Tulana. Apples, bananas, sheafs of grain, termite-towers of oats, even buns and chocolate bars stolen from Tulana’s radial warehouses.

This is the testament of a bicosmic creature. It has constructed this place to attract a mate with its plenty. It is a radiant beacon shining through to other universes and it will gleam in the eye of some other monster that will phase in to mate with Tulana’s thief in the midst of their plenty, and there will their offspring be born, and there will it take its natal feast. 

It is labyrinthine inside, for the castle’s interior is arranged as a message made of 3D sigils like a self-entwining calligraphic alhamdulillah. It catches and prismatically refracts particles that phase for immeasurable moments into our reality. These will reach their intended audience. It is only a matter of time. If the architect has been successful, a mate will appear.

The barriers of the interior are foodstuff. Delicately arranged archways of bananas. Balls pits of oranges. Colonnades of salmon stacked tail-in-mouth. These are sensitive. Easily disrupted. The host will sense a collapse.

This thing is *territorial*. It will not have its masterwork disrupted. It has worked itself to a lather ensuring the perfect existential polarity of its piece of sexual bait.

The lowest reaches are ice caves. The uppermost are miasmahalls of rot. Calories are calories. These beasts are not concerned with putridity. Some foods are in perfect preserve. Others are a slurry of decomposition. Such areas are difficult for a man to traverse. Not for the builder.

It is an aerial blender-beast. A levitating hectogon girt with monowire tentacles. By whirling about it can reduce anything within a 10’ radius to a molecular slurry.

By combining them all it creates an appendage capable of manipulating matter without cutting it. Otherwise every strand is irresistibly sharp. 

Secure Tulana’s food supply. Pray that this creature’s mate does not manifest while you are in the belly of the bower.

Malignant Growth (SARF3MG): There is a famine in Linerise. 

Huge quantities of food are being sucked up for the cities, factories and armies.

Linerise’s fruit plantations are on the river deltas. The coast is triple canopy jungle. It can barely be traversed a hundred meters from the shore. 

The productive areas are garnished to the last peel. Oranges, bananas, mango. Siphoned to the cities, taken for export, or fed to the war machine.

No one here needs to starve, but they do. The nine-winged boat planes come and take everything. This is part necessity, part callousness, part punishment for the once-restive planters and pickers.

You must relieve them. The grip of the cities on the deltas is tenuous here. Most of their forces are abroad.

They will lose their wars without this prop. The reprisal on the river people will be apocalyptic.

The contracting agent posits three options:
1. Free the deltafolk from the grip of their overseers and lead them on a migration to a new land.
2. Free the deltafolk from the grip of their overseers and lead them in an assault on the cities of their oppressors while the armies are away.
3. Find some way of supplying the core of this nation with food so that they would no longer collapse without the fruit of the deltas.

There are people in the government who would be amenable to this. The fruit overseers will not. They sell to the government as a concession, and sell the rest abroad for massive profits.

They have enforcers and informants. Both in the deltas and in the cities. In the factories, in the armies. In the fishermen. They have secret blacksites in the mangrove swamps.

The rivers and estuaries are patrolled by the government in their armed riverplanes and by the overseers in their steamboats.

Beneath them are the crocodiles. Many have tasted an arm; some have eaten their fill of manflesh. They love it.

Tread lightly.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Maximalist Weird Fiction Mercenary Contract Generator Appendix D: Military Assistance

I sort of shifted my strategy for Inspire Leadership; see if you can tell the difference. That was the final section I wrote for this.

A: Investigations: High-risk detective work
B: Special Reconnaissance: Physical surveillance in hostile conditions
C: Military Intervention: Direct action in support of allied military activities
D: Military Assistance: Train, lead, advise and inspire allied military and/or security forces
E: Stability Actions: Ensure that a vulnerable polity, individual, or process thrives by engaging with threats on its behalf
F: Counterconspiracy: Social infiltration and undercover proactive security
G: Counteroccult: Hunt strange creatures, assassinate occultists, minimize the fallout of occult catastrophes, counter malign entities, and safeguard items and places of cosmic provenance
H: Influence Operations: Persuade, influence, subvert and deceive under delicate and/or hostile circumstances
I: Extractions: Recover personnel and assets from hostile forces and other dangerous situations
J: Civil Relief: Prevent atrocities, relieve suffering in cut-off areas, and set up systems of sustenance and protection for people who are under threat of deprivation and violence

Contract Index
Foreign Military Effort
Viroalien Xenostygians (MABFMA1VX)
Xtapolapocetl (MABFMA2X)
Serpent Fur (MABFMA3SF)
Underground Movement
Reproach and Rapprochement (MABUM1RAR)
Proxy Apoplexy (MABUM2PA)
Magicopique (MABUM3M)
Confirmation Daïs (MAII1CD)
Proioxis, Palioxis (MAII2PP)
Philosopher King (MAII3PK)
The Fray (MAIL1TF)
A Falling Past (MAIL2AFP)
Blue Blood Boiling (MAIL3BBB)
Ushering In Utopia (MALG1UIU)
Her Picture Keeps Me Warm (MALG2HPKMW)
Faith and Hope (MALG3FAH)
Divine Right (MALR1DR)
Margraves All (MALR2MA)
Blockade Runner (MALR3BR)
Demonic Mothbat Crocodile Spiders (MALT1DMCS)
A Whispering Crack (MALT2AWC)
The Rot of Milk and Honey (MALT3TROMAH)
Jackal Saviors (MALP1JS)
Blue Spruce and Mule Deer (MASL1BSAMD)
War of Appeasement (MASL2WOA)
Controlled Burn (MASL3CB)
Heroic Archetypes (MASM1HA)
Violence ISO Nonviolence (MASM2VISON)
Mercenary Paladins (MASM2MP)
Shepherd and Sling (MASM3SAS)

Foreign Military Effort
Viroalien Xenostygians (MABFMA1VX): The Mining Collective of the Harmonious Geode has dug too deep. A cavern was breached in the quest for raw troglodite, and a mist poured forth to engulf the miners. Its savor was beyond any sweetness yet tasted by gourmands or angels. Drawn on, the boldest of them walked into the lavender countermiasma and met with a few narrow forms in the billowing darkness: men long lost from the surface, lost for so long they had forgotten there was a surface. Cut off from any conduit to the sun in prehistory. The reconnection was happenstance. The outcome was pure causality.

The miners died. The mysterious men died. Those witnesses hanging back by the borehole mouth retreated to tell the mining council what had transpired. When they returned, the bodies had been melted flat into the cracks and crags of the sparkling cavern floor. The xenostygians had rendered them into something harmless to them.

The mine’s resident physician examined the corpsegoop. It carried a massive, totally inert bacterial and viral load. The germs of the two races of men had slaughtered each other, and then died immediately, for they were as unsuited to their new conditions as their carriers were.

The miners went back to the borehole to collapse it. They too were melted. Follow-on scouts reported xenostygians armored in mineralized eurypterid chitin crafted to resemble hallucigenian demons establishing a strongpoint of myriapodae razorfences. Their armor was hermetically sealed and decorated with the milk white and silver-mottled flesh of an unknown cephalopod. Their weapons are long platinum-iridium staves capable of emitting an emulsifying mist made from an unknown mineral.
The xenostygians are rising. Their blood hungers for the forgotten sun. The miners are desperate. They cannot come near each other; the abyssals or the delvers. There is only a desperate cleansing, by moltenstaff or mining charge. 

Help the miners. Hurl the xenostygians back into their eternal tomb, or find some way to bring a truce between these viroalienated peoples.

Xtapolapocetl (MABFMA2X): A city-state is fighting the mighty Cynthian Empire and losing its outlying domains. Buy it time to organize its urban core into something capable of defending the wilderness regions and, if possible, recover those the Cynthians have handed over to their tribal allies.

Be warned: the tribes are erecting strange totems in regions that the Cynthians have no interest in, and refugees from those totems report that the graven wooden heads contain actual human heads, and the final moments, fears and hatreds of the people whose heads were entombed in the totem seem to be manifesting in ethereal (but physiologically-affecting) three-dimensional visions. If there is a way of dissipating these specters, it is not yet known (you as GM rule explosions work, for example, or make toppling/destroying the totems the only way to end the manifestation).

These totems also seem to become the loci of novel entities, which are either attracted to the totems or are generated from whole cloth by the heads within. Each entity has its own visages, opinions and desires.
NPCs or PCs who are killed or taken by the tribes are likely to manifest in totems encountered by the PCs with all the attendant manifestations.

Serpent Fur (MABFMA3SF): The Mountain Towns of Grasswall are suffering undermining and attacks by an unknown xenostygian civilization. Now, if a town of Grasswall were to be taken by surfacers, the enemy would have a very troublesome time reaching the others with his war machine because most city-states don’t have their entire military structured around alpinism. The highland defense is useless against the underworlders because tunnels are sprouting right at the points which are most dangerous to the defenders of Grasswall, and xenostygian warriors wearing netted reams of shivering shards of obsidian like tinkling ghillie suits woven throughout their very bodies are emerging to conquer the towns.
The Grasswall militias are well suited to fighting on the sunny crags of home, but tunnel warfare is novel to them (though they are capable of making quick descents using their rock climbing gear).

You are being hired Infiltrate these tunnels and discover what is creating them; if possible, prevent the xenostygians from ever making another one, and if you can’t, prepare to lead the people of Grasswall to destroy the foe in his very subterranean warrens- or if you judge this to be impossible, convince them of the inevitability of their defeat and protect their exodus from the highland towns. 

Underground Movement
Reproach and Rapprochement (MABUM1RAR): The underground resistance against the tyranny of King Uralkan Malvista is led by his first and only son, Prince Huracian. King Uralkan has done unforgivable things to his people, but Prince Huracian wishes only that his father would disband the secret police and relax his campaign of murder against the city’s artists and jesters. The people cry for the blood of the king, but should it be granted whey will find themselves rudderless and quite susceptible to the vagaries of fate that accompany an interregnum.

The King loves his son and is prevaricating while being pressed by his ministers about what to do; they advise that he dispatch the price, but he wishes to reintegrate his son into the royal family and eventually hand the reins off to him (which of course could lead to the destruction of all those who supported harsh measures during the time of the King’s tyranny). Travel to the Malvistan Kingdom and bring harmonious stability and an end to the tyranny by whatever means necessary without allowing a true interregnum.

Proxy Apoplexy (MABUM2PA): The underground resistance in Capayagana is literally underground. This city has been ruined, resettled and made magnificent three times in history, and each time it falls is accompanied by landslides and erosion (typically from artillery fire or the explosive undermining of its walls).

Now the city has been conquered once more, and the resistance movement has descended into the megalithizing remnants of the old cities, which are pushing themselves into the soft soil at a rate of about an inch per week. The rebels have somehow been equipped with strange and diabolical weapons to fight the invaders; lye bombs, scorpion barb flechette mines, and plants with enormous roots that can disrupt the stone foundations of the buildings above. Assist the resistance against the invaders, but discover who is supplying them with weapons [xeno/cryptostygians] and guide them away from being unduly influenced by their benefactors. 

Magicopique (MABUM3M): The resistance of Brackjar has become understandably vicious; few city-states have been conquered in a more wanton fashion. The rage in the hearts of Brackjar’s people has allowed for the rise of a proscribed form of leadership: a congregation of occultists who have promised to lay their powers down, or go into voluntary exile, after the invaders have been routed from the city.
The ways of these occultists are mysterious; they seem to be a preexisting conspiracy of prominent citizens who came forward to take responsibility for the resistance after the invasion. They have shown one power thus far: the ability to delete spheres of matter from reality roughly 12’ in diameter; this is followed by a sucking-in as oxygen rushes in to fill the existential vacuum.

Free Brackjar from the oppression of their conquerors and rid them of their supernatural junta. Do this in whatever order you see fit but beware of being seduced by the prospect of their justly-peerless aid.

Know this: so bedeviled are the invaders by these occultists that they have paid off weakly-committed members of the resistance to assassinate the deleters through bombing or indiscriminate submachine-gunning. Whatever offensive powers the occultists have, they seem to have no powers of foresight or protection.

Confirmation Daïs (MAII1CD)): Masonregime faces a heretical uprising based on a reading of the city-state’s traditional religious text that is based around bringing a meteor down on the cliffside city-state as a way to open a cosmic rift into heaven, absorbing all souls in a single flash of spiritual fire. The heretics have faced only scattered resistance from individual property owners as they advance through the city, seizing the infrastructure and public buildings in preparation for a grand ritual with a pole of antimagnetically entrapped suspendium.

The reason for this supine acceptance of rule by heretics is that the city’s Archprophet is not yet certain that the heretical reading of the scripture is wrong, and his sanction will be required for the Masonregimers to act unilaterally against the heretics. By temperament he leans towards ‘no’ but he is laboriously searching all associated texts for context before he makes a decision that will bathe his city in blood. The city’s ministers are covertly contracting us to enter the city and delay the heretical takeover as long as possible, throwing them into chaos through attacks, rumors and feints, to give the Archprophet time to develop his conviction against the Meteoric Hypothesis.

If you can, find a way to enhance and hasten his conviction against the heretics, through direct persuasion or through the shaping of events in Masonregime. Should all else fail and the heretics raise the antisuspendium rod upon the Orrerical Dias, do whatever it takes to bring this ceremony to a premature end or (may the Burning Eye forbid) they may somehow bring about the mad fate that they are courting.

Proioxis, Palioxis (MAII2PP): The war champion of Teraveste is a man of mighty passions and mighty melancholies. He is the unkillable master of battle when the spirit of action takes him, but when it fades he languishes with weeping and furrowed brow within his tent and waits for the mortars to fall. The generals of Teraveste are desperate; their fortunes seem to ride with this mighty warrior, and as he is inspired the men are inspired, as he is laid low the men fall back. They have contracted you to assist him when he becomes energized so as to get the absolute maximum out of his periods of activity, and to attempt to inspire, shame or mitigate him when the darkness comes and he sinks into his pout.

Philosopher King (MAII3PK): Once an inspiring figure, the president of Gardialalia has been rattled to the core by a series of military defeats. Elected on a Whig platform and utterly confident in his nation’s capabilities and destinies, he presided over a series of civic successes until a war that he never foresaw broke out. War is not a part of his constitution, and his leadership has been irresolute. Now the situation is degrading, the enemy is advancing and the president is wracked with guilt at the human cost of his military errors. Enter Gardialalia, liaison with the officer corps, buy time against the enemy, find the president, and if at all possible get him back in the fight. Bolster his efforts and make sure that Gardialalia does not fall.

The Fray (MAIL1TF): The sweeping waves of men. Loinclothed fishermen pressed into transporters, a navy of halfmoon wicker. A dragon-kite deepening the wind like a carnyx.
Traditions grow strong. Their roots are shaped from the soil of the first things. Institutions grow strong. They take their lifeblood from sea-changes and their exoskeletons are technologies. As a technology properly envelopes an institution, so too does the embraced grow to fill its apportioned space. And when that technology rusts and creaks, so too does the institution wilt, except when its lifeblood is poured into a more vibrant vessel.

Once, the navy of Old Kronerand was a thing of nets and catamarans. Once there was no navy. Now it is ironclad battleships. Giant cataphracts. Submarines. Iron tritons. Once there was no air force. It is barely an air force. Zeppelins and balloons. Ridiculous things. Scout planes with binoculars and machine guns bought on donation.

Everyone knows these things. 

The General of the Army has a vision of the wind. Sky knights. Bellum gloriosum. Fighter Command. Bomber Command. Dash. Panache. The great turkey shoot as his men cross the open.

The Admiral has vision on the chthonic land from where he stands in the conning tower. Filth. Decay. Cities cracked open, sewage bubbling. At least when things die at sea they have the decency to sink or burn. 

The Air Marshal feels the feet of giants on his efforts, two jealous cyclopes burning his tadpole service with bale eyes. 
He is liberated by the technology of aviation. He has struck oil and it’s borne him aloft. They reach to clip his wings.
He fights his resentment.

To the General, his counterparts cannot understand the sacrifice of the body. The constant threat to it. Nor what it means to kill at close range- with a bayonet. To hear the screaming. They are Support. Secondary. Pseudowarriors. They are not Ancient.

And the Admiral. This is might and majesty. This is the projection of Power. This is not the swarm, nor the airy drift. This is not chaos, except in defeat. It is symphony, harmony, superhuman. The greatest weapon known to man.

The Air Marshal wishes to fly. He is party to a war but this is an enterprise for all mankind. Whatever the fate of his nation, he will have pushed the course of history nearer to the sky.

They are losing the war. There is no coordination. There is no cooperation. It is really three wars, each fought in contempt of the others. It’s not a manner of healing the rift between them; there was no bond to be damaged. The client needs you to be the herald of combined arms, unite the three great men, and by hook or by crook win the war.

A Falling Past (MAIL2AFP): Sophontera. It rests upon the bosom of its ancestors. A glittering dust always falls from the sparkling roofs of the great cavern tombs beneath the city. It is in this dust that forms can be seen- faces. It is from the mirror pools of the sarcophagi that voices can be heard; faint, not commanding. But certain.

Perhaps you are a boy or girl and you have no place among your peers. Your interests, your perceptions, the way you think- irreparably different.

Perhaps you are a king or a president and there is no analog in history for the crisis you face. There is nothing in your life that could have prepared you to make the fateful decision you must make.

Perhaps you are a pampered higher bourgeois. You know nothing of work or cunning; only of fancy. Now lean times have come for you. You have nothing to rely upon, inside or out.

The journey is old. It begins the same way. A hall of red eyes in darkness. Glittering rubies like powerful, fanged bat demons rising to salivate for your blood in the immediate shadows. Walk into this place. See what your mind does. You are raw. You could use the fantasy.

You will find a cave mouth in this place. It is shadow-lit. You need not bring a lantern. It will take you where you are going. Feel with your hands. Move slowly.

You will hear a hum. Feel a vibration. It will grow. The air will wet or cool. You will advance into a roaring wall of foggy light. This is one of two things. A subterranean waterfall or billowing steam from some ten mile vent far from your plying step. This is the sign of your transition and impending communion.

Walk beyond it. Drench yourself. Anoint yourself. You will set foot in the halls of the ancestors now. A cavern of vegetation is beyond the vale, a triple-canopy of feathery pastel mosscoral ensconced in furs of dripping green lichen. You walk upon a confluence of riverroads whisper steam beneath a shower of golden dust. The garden is filled with sarcophagi which the sacred dust caresses like petals on an upward face.

Someone will appear. A specter. Someone like you. There will be someone like you. A hundred thousand dead rest in these halls.

What is the greatest pleasure to one who has mastered his or her art? 

To teach. They will help you find your way.

They have a perspective. An outlook. A tradition. The city-state survived to be handed down. Many cannot make this claim. They do not expect those of the surface to hew to the ancestors’ every foible, but they do expect those now living to be able to explain the decisions of the city.

This faculty has slackened as of late. It seems that no one can explain the ways of the council to the ancestors in a way that they will accept. Petitioners from above have been driven back by hot steam after interlocution by the grim ancestral heralds of forgotten dark ages. The ancestors love to give advice but will not invest in a people they see as doomed, although there is agony on their breath. Those entering the antechamber of eyes cannot find their way through the dark anymore. The caverns do not yield. What once were gems seem really to be eyes now; not predatory, but scornful. 

The city faces a time of crises. War, plague and starvation loom. The people and government are at a loss for what to do without their ancient counsel. They have hired you as neutral observers, advisors and troubleshooters. Diagnose the problem between the polity and their ancestors and prepare them for the times to come.

Some ideas:
Find a way into the caverns of the ancestors via the Stygian canals that arise from more distant arteries, and discuss matters with them directly. Beware the fungal tentacles, extremophile coral ornithopters and acidic amoebas which utilize these channels.
Ascertain the core principles of the ancestors based on their traditional advisements and practices and determine where the city-state has directly contravened the old ways. Reform the council’s ways, or prepare them to make the deepest argument in their own favor yet- then beseech the ancestors for what might be the final time.
Leave the caves to molder and lead the city-state to victory over its coming travails without their traditional crutch. This is possible, but fraught with complications: the people trust and pine for their ancestors, and are hesitant to act decisively in their absence. They will be frustratingly passive until you can effect a sea-change in their outlook.

Blue Blood Boiling (MAIL3BBB): Aristocratic excess and arbitrariness make for strange bedfellows. The light has gone out on the gentlemen of Arisbar ever since an alliance of Republicans and Syndicalists ousted the House of Lords from the capitol. The nobles of the realm (landowners before warriors for generations) have retired to their country manors and their land turned into commons or handed to tenant farmers in the course of land reform. Now tapestries, ancient suits of armor and hereditary jewelry are being pawned to maintain a vestigial lifestyle of idleness.

Arisbar has found herself suddenly at war against an alliance of neighbors (long infuriated at the depredations of Arisbar’s cavalier elite) who see the present instability as a soft underbelly ready to be ripped apart for pork chops. The foremen and politicians of Aristbar were made into military commanders with disastrous results. Many of them have been killed, and the flower of Arisbar’s youth has been torn by early defeats. 

The nobles have been eating themselves alive with relentless dueling, idle of their old landlord’s affairs in their vast country estates. Riding accidents have become disturbingly common. They are dwindling; this will be the last such generation unless a reason to preserve them makes itself apparent. Which it has.
The only place military strategy has been taught for generations in Arisbar is around the hearths and maprooms of the great estates. Despite the placid debauchery characterizing the current crop of nobles and, to a lesser extent, their old men, they do possess a military cunning which has been fatally missing in Arisbar’s duly elected commanders.

The people still hold the old nobility in awe. They are like caged lions; a higher type. Their lifestyle in the country houses has remained the subject of rapturous attention despite the end of their political authority.
They have talent, and demons. They are not used to dissension or backtalk. They are not used to governing their intake of wine or roast pork. They are not used to the families of serving girls standing up to them. They are not used to taking advice from mercenaries or holding back when they have a chance to make a mounted charge, previously limiting themselves to riding down rioters and outlaws. They are irate at the government and people of their nation. Many would like it to go down in flames. Only the hostility of the foe prevents certain nobles from defecting.

The Provisional Citizens’ Council of Arisbar has hired you to rally the nobility to Arisbar’s flag once again by any means necessary short of restoring aristocratic hegemony. Get them leading troops and turn the tide of the three-pronged invasion. If all else fails, fill in whatever gaps you can and take to the field yourselves. The situation grows dire, dire, and prospects for Arisbar’s future (and your payment in full grow dim). Succeed and be the heroes of a nation, sharing in the ancient glory of the warrior aristocracy. Fail and witness the molten debellatio of a budding republic.

Ushering In Utopia (MALG1UIU): There are few ideologies more inimical to Starling & Shrike (and mercenaries generally) than hardline Anarcho-Syndicalism. Nevertheless, necessity makes for strange bedfellows. The occult monarchy of Rembragar is a bloodstained tyranny in the manner of a murder cult written large. The only remaining effective guerrilla movement is the Forester’s Union, an amalgam of the surviving unions which have taken refuge in the wooded hills near the city. The nature of their philosophy is a secondary consideration to the need for deposing this monarchy, which is beginning to literally suck the life from the land that the guerrillas inhabit, if the reports are to be believed; it is the supernatural wizening and necrotizing of nature as a weapon of war. We have reached out to the Forester’s Union about lending them direct aid and they have given a guarded consent, but be wary, because in normal times they consider us to be their primary enemies.

Her Picture Keeps Me Warm (MALG2HPKMW): Princess Laskalia is the last free member of her city-state’s royal family and high government; the king, the princes, the marshals, the castellans, all killed or captured. The people flock to the Princess’s banner, but they fought as levies before, raised with their rifles and shotguns when war came but were otherwise men of the soil or steam engine. They need dedicated, professional, coolheaded, and politically-unobligated leadership. This is where you come in. Be warned; Laskalia is a figure of great charisma and is held in reverence by the common people of this realm. Appearing to defy her, disrespect her or go against her wishes will anger and alienate them, so the first step of your mission is likely to be winning her over to your vision of the path to victory. You could demonstrate your capabilities with a successful mission, you could take her path and win on personal magnetism. We leave that up to you.

Faith and Hope (MALG3FAH): The Jastialana Movement are the only coherent resistance remaining in the city-state; their fanaticism gives them the backbone that has been necessary to stay in the fight after all of the other factions have folded.

This is due to their faith in an entity which is guiding their activities. We have a highly-sensitive dual objective from you: support the Jastialana Movement in their shadow war against the invader, but at the same time, seek to wrest them from the grip of the entity that they worship. Destroy it, banish it, minimize it, or, in the worst case scenario, set the Jastialanas up for a fall after helping them win victory over the invaders; the only thing worse than the creation of an empire with this city-state as its tax base would be for it to be ruled by occultists.

Divine Right (MALR1DR): The aristocracy of Azenpart has transformed over the last year. Whereas before they were idle, speculative and disinterested in governance, now they are edgy, focused and increasingly tyrannical along arbitrary lines. Assassins from the commons have struck against expropriating nobles on a few occasions with bizarre results; one nobleman, when shot, bloated up like a giant strawberry and then popped through the gunshot wound. When stabbed, another emitted a poison dust that caused fatal psychological dissociation in those around his body. A third noble, when fired upon, drove his motorcar at the cafe where the assassins were firing from, bailed out, and by the time the car reached the windows of the cafe it was a glob of molten metal; those shooters who weren’t struck directly by the car were baked to death in moments from the ambient heat. When a nascent conspiracy was discovered, a lone noble went into the apartment with the conspirators and a horrific retching was heard from the street. Superacid melted through the floor of the apartment in question and cut through a few apartments below it, and all that was found of the conspirators were a few severely degraded bones. Travel to Azenpart and help the people overthrow these nobles with their hideous powers and, if possible, discover how they came to be.

Margraves All (MALR2MA): The social structure of the hill-city of Gradania is unusual; the people compete to live near the walls so as to defend the city against the nearby hill tribes, who present a constant threat of infiltration, kidnapping and arson. Prestige is gained by living near the walls and defending against the tribes; other endeavors are regarded as being less honorable and less praiseworthy. Now, a conspiracy of low-status but wealthy landlords in the center of the city have pooled their resources and built a network citadel in the center of the city out of a number of dilapidated manors and office buildings; they have hired a small mercenary army of outsiders flown into the city’s central airstrip, conspired with the nearby bandit tribes, and launched a two-pronged inner-outer assault on the outer wall districts. The already-embattled wall neighborhoods couldn’t stand up to this, and largely folded. The landlords declared a new government where the center of the city would be the executive center, and now only isolated rebel bands remain, and the tribesmen have penetrated the outer wall for the first time. They are engaging in increasingly-hostile negotiations with the city-core landlords; soon they may decide that they’d just like to take the tower/manor fortress as well. Travel to Gradania, link up with the rebels, and restore the elective City Wall Council or another functional, non-tyrannical form of government.

Blockade Runner (MALR3BR): The barricades have been laid in the city’s innermost quarter. The courthouses, prisons and arsenals have all been seized and fortified. Now the rebels are embattled. No one thought that the State Gendarmerie could be recalled from their farmstations with such speed. They have the rebels mostly surrounded, although neither side greatly outnumbers the other. The issue (besides crack Gendarmerie marksmanship) is that trains from sympathetic city-states are being laden with artillery; the rebels seized the city-state’s artillery but can’t employ it effectively. Should the Gendarmes receive their contingent of artillery, they’ll begin knocking down the very structures that the rebels inhabit. Get to the center of the city and lead them in a breakout through the Gendarmerie’s line, and if you’d like a fat bonus, find a way to help them take over the incoming trains. Beware, however, that these are citizens, not soldiers; in a pitched battle against the Gendarmerie, they are likely to take heavy casualties unless they have some other special advantage.

Demonic Mothbat Crocodile Spiders (MALT1DMCS): The Fastoak Tribe is fighting a war against demonic tyrants. In this world, these tyrants take the form of giant mothbats roughly the size of tennis rackets, but spiritually they are a form of fire-girt crocodile spider. Wherever the mothbats migrate, the endeavors of the tribesmen fail. They are cursed, thwarted, misled, confounded. In the godplane, the crocodile spiders assail them, devour their sages, burn their spiritual fastnesses and scatter their precious sacrifices to the wind so that the trickster spirits can swallow them up like crows on crumbs. Some among the Fastoak Tribe feel that they have become too steeped in tradition and recursive communication with the Gods, and that it is time to bring in an outside to serve as a balance, foil or talisman. That’s where you come in. Travel to the Fastoaks, do what you can to uncover the origins and natures of the mothbats, and then enter the Godplane with the Fastoak rootburners and free the tribesmen from the specter of these monsters once and for all. 

A Whispering Crack (MALT2AWC): Influence amongst the Gushmark tribes comes from a strange place. The tribal chieftains have discovered a whispering crack in a pile of giant rocks at the heart of their traditional hunting grounds. They retire to this place to make their decisions for their tribes and use this to claim overweening spiritual authority. Their decisions have grown increasingly oriented around making dangerous expeditions into the depths of the earth to acquire rare minerals with special properties rather than carrying out the tribes’ traditional way of life, cattle raiding.

Several of the tribes have risen up in rebellion and been ruthlessly attacked by the tribes of the most powerful leaders within the confederation; the leaders themselves have not been seen in some time, but whisper counsel to the tribal princes from the rocky slit into which they’ve delved. The tribes feel that if they enter this place to dispose of the tyrants which are carrying their clans’ destiny into the depths of the abyss, they will be burnt and swallowed up and never return. They feel that a group of outsiders is likely to be untouched by the spiritual magic of the chieftains’ redoubt. They want you to enter this crag and root out the chieftains once and for all. The chieftain’s redoubt is like a vast orrery is a space of infinite blackness; there is an outwards gravitational pull from the golden orb at the heart of the orrery, which contains two shining doorways of pure light; one through which the party will enter the orrery, the other through which the party may exit it (the entrance is in the rock cleft; the exit is in a seacave off the Little Iguanas archipelago. There are a number of slowly revolving concentric golden rings surrounding the golden orb; these are the primary walking surface of this place.

The chieftains are here, but have been made into statues made entirely of razor-sharp gears by unknown entities; they will attempt to pick you up (shredding you where ever they grab you) and stuff you into their bodies, or simply knock you off the orrery into the infinite darkness. Be cautious when employing explosions against them, as their razor-gears will make for profoundly deadly shrapnel.

The Rot of Milk and Honey (MALT3TROMAH): The Greengust people inhabit a vast, fertile plain of shaggy aurochs and wild strawberries. They subjugated and integrated the largest nearby tribes over a hundred years ago and have enjoyed a multigenerational stretch of good grazing and only the mildest levels of internecine warfare. Their beef festivals and strawberry wine are famous throughout the continent, and even civilized people may travel among them to trade and hear their songs.

Now, however, there is a new force at play among the Greengusts. A second tribal people have emerged from the truffle forests of Gar and settled among the actual yurts of the Greengusts, pinning up their caravan flaps between Greengust homes and eating the sows and strawberries of the field. If this were not enough, the people of Gar cultivate powerful spirit mushrooms from their forest in reeking night soil troughs in their caravans and then eat these mushrooms by the dozen at night, driving them into a state of berserker frenzy and revelation. The Greengusts have been utterly divided on what to do about this situation; there is a faction among them that speaks of the coming of Gar as the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy of spiritual unity and tribal kingship, and so far their zeal for this perspective has carried the day.

Meanwhile more and more mushroom caravans of Gar have come dancing and screaming into the yurtholds of Greengust. Finally the deadlock came to a head when numerous Greengust priests and supplicants came to dine in the mushroom pit of Gar one night and were instead dined upon; this has caused consternation among some of the Greengust prophetic faction, but has simply inspired an apocalyptic fervor in the rest. However, many of the peripheral Greengust tribal leaders have now had enough and have decided to drive Gar and their supporters out of Greengust, but because they have never had to countenance such a thing before they are contracting you, of what they call ‘the Anti-Spirit Tribe’, to lead them in their campaign.

Jackal Saviors (MALP1JS): The city-state was completely defeated; the military crushed, the government domestically overthrown. It is now an engine of tyranny. The people turned to pirate captains to lead them against an aggressor but the subsequent preying-upon of natural merchants has made them cynical and disenchanted; far less willing and able to defend their city-state from anything but the most naked aggression. Alas, they have come to rely on the pirate captains, their ships and the wealth that comes from their way of life, and cannot imagine doing without it now.

The prophecies of this city’s path indicate the coming of outsiders to save it in its hour of peril. They believed in the pirates as a fulfillment of the prophecy; you must show them that their elevation was preemptive. Travel to this city and take on the role of its saviors. Do not fail and do not disenchant them, or they will be left with nothing. Do not desert them in the darkest hour, for you may win them back even then. Do not allow them to become the vipers of the sea after this scarring of the soul; find a way to weave them back into the international quilt.

Blue Spruce and Mule Deer (MASL1BSAMD): A bandit tribe chieftain is facing discord from his subordinate clans while simultaneously standing off a confederation of heavily-armed, well-equipped and well-provisioned cannibals. Some clans think they should abandon their highland pass homeland and seek greener pastures elsewhere, but the perspective of the chieftain is that by abandoning their tutelary spirits they will disconnect themselves from all guidance and aid in a new and unfriendly land. Travel to this chieftain and bolster him and his cause however you can, lest this horde of cannibal reavers break through into softer lands.

War of Appeasement (MASL2WOA): A charismatic leader of a frontier militia is rallying herdsmen and shepherds to his cause in defense of raiders who come for their livestock. These raiders are not like common thieves who will run from battle and beg for their lives; they are grim, determined and practiced.
The raiders aren’t coming for the livestock as a source of food or prestige, though the militia aren’t aware of this. They’re sacrificing the bulls, calves and heifers to an entity that is in love with the smell of roast meat. The entity guides them through the wilderness, but they greatly fear its wrath.

Help this man, lest this entity be empowered or driven truly mad with lust for the scent of burning flesh.

Controlled Burn (MASL3CB): A tough, vicious, fanatical resistance leader is mounting a determined opposition to an occupying force; the brutality of both the occupiers and the resistance has grown in tandem and is threatening to devolve into a scorched-earth situation. Help this resistance leader but counsel him against drastic measures because there will be contracts galore should he drive out the invaders, but none to speak of if the city-state is ruined.

Heroic Archetypes (MASM1HA): There is no culture of martial valor in the artist-city of Ygra, but now that it’s been invaded, gradually one is coalescing around a nearly forgotten artistic tradition of romantic heroism. The people of this city are gradually preparing to organize themselves and rise up against the invader; what they need in the meanwhile is for someone to take the pressure off them until they can employ the funds and amateur foreign volunteers pouring in from freer societies. Travel to Ygra, create a space for this movement to flourish, and ultimately, provide them with an inspiration that they can follow into the breach, and victory.

Violence ISO Nonviolence (MASM2VISON): The resistance movement of the subjugated folk of Galanar has been thoroughly crushed. There is nothing left to do with the gun and bomb; the people can ill-afford further brutal reprisals. All that may be done is to bring the eye of the world upon this place and to make it un-worth it for the invader to dominate. Few strategies are more effective for this than nonviolent resistance, but there are yet a few surviving, influential resistance leaders who will sacrifice their own lives and their city-state to blow smoke into the eyes of their captors.

This is not the way forward; travel to Galanar and persuade them to adopt nonviolent tactics to bring whatever international pressure is possible onto the invader. Meanwhile, do whatever is possible to support their movement. Do whatever the people of Galanar can no longer be caught in the act of doing, whether that’s opening the city to food supplies, smuggling or breaking influential thinkers out of jail or the city, or, as a last resort eliminating invader leaders who favor the destruction of the city over its abandonment; but be warned, killing someone from the occupation who isn’t disfavored with his own leadership is likely to lead to an even greater reprisal.

Mercenary Paladins (MASM2MP): With the fall of the Citadel of Galentael, there is no pretending anymore that the Kingdom of Blasphere is engaged in some kind of sporting border skirmish. The enemy has won out while the degraded nobility of Galentale idled on their storybook estates, discussing possibilities over rounds of polo while actualities played out in the lands of their subjects.

They has been a rentier class for some time; gone are the olden days of plate mail, blood-soaked broadswords and battlefield coronations. Here is perfume, picnicking, lepidopterology and the first hints of cultural irony among the highest classes. But they are the only unifiers and administrators this culture has. They are some of the only educated people; some of the only people with the possibility of organizing a resistance.

Now talk has begun to bloom of Blasphere’s founding myths; of paladins, errantry, chivalry. The sleeping ghost of the warrior knight has begun to awaken, but the bodies, hearts and minds of the Blaspherian nobility are ill-fitted for such armor. You must travel there and safeguard the budding chrysalis of warrior aristocracy; you must ensure that the spirit and estates of the Blaspherian gentes are not prematurely crushed, and do what you can to help them rediscover their legacy and cultivate the heroic and the obligated. Otherwise, the enemy will be greatly strengthened on the fattened larders, lands and treasuries of Blasphere.

Shepherd and Sling (MASM3SAS): The city is lost; it burns and is bombarded. The infrastructure is ruined, the factories collapsed, the food supply cut off. The only future for the people of Tarielyar is in exodus and emigration. There is an international movement to help them from nearby city states; ships coming to evacuate them, carts and trucks to smuggle them away through the forest lanes. This is not the desire of the invader, who would hem them all up in the city and then reduce them to peonage in his good time. You must do everything you can to support these transporters, perhaps even adding to their number, and to help the people of Tarielyar escape the debellatio of their home while the invader seeks to crush the relief columns and lay an iron yoke upon these harrowed folk.

The Kingdom of Outreclad is preparing to ford the Tumescent Strait with its new fleet of amphibious tanks, but the enemy has developed an amphibious weapon of its own: interceptor barges. These cheaply lashed-together barges can carry the enemy’s abundant field guns without need for a fleet-in-being, and they are towed by shoals of large sharks bred in the enemy’s nascent submarine pens. The sharks are leashed to one another so that when they swim they do so in roughly the same direction, and they are also individually lashed to the barge in question. When an enemy ship is damaged and there’s blood in the water, the crew of the barge can activate a fuse inside the waterproof reins to an individual shark and let it speed ahead; the fuse will reach the shark’s body in a few minutes, which contains a surgically-implanted depth charge which will help to crumple any ships near the shark’s point of detonation. The crew of the barge can and will detonate all sharks at once like a team of explosive murder-reindeer-missiles with glowing red noses when they get close enough to an enemy ship, though if they choose to detonate only a certain percentage of their sharks they sacrifice thrust, as retained sharks in vicinity of those detontating are likely to be maimed and killed. Prevent the enemy from employing this mad weapon against the Outreclad tank fleet, and if you cannot stop the threat entirely, travel with the tank column and assist them in defending themselves from this menace below.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Discourse - What Do Players Find Meaningful?

Summary: This is an unscripted, no-notes, one-take discussion of what game elements, in my experience, RPG players seem to find meaningful and engaging. I decided it would be a fun and interesting challenge to just try and hash this out as a subject without planning what I would go into or even thinking too much about it ahead of time. That way my experiences could manifest naturally as the most salient of them made themselves apparent in the course of the discussion. That said, I have thought about this before.

I recorded this around the time I did the second Making Your Bones story.

0:00 Intro and justification

0:44 Background and origins

2:49 Few pleasures greater in the world

4:17 Let’s define meaning

5:22 What things have I found create maximum meaning for players?

5:35 Give the Devil his due: character chassis development

7:46 Potentiality becoming actuality in combat / a high minimum bar

9:27 Load-bearing combat

12:02 The greatest battles that I’ve ever seen in an RPG were stacked around a great question; a hinge moment

13:07 What creates buy-in for players for non-murderhobo conflicts/enterprises? (Ownership, affection)

14:56 How is deep investment in a place or conflict actually established? (Something almost every player enjoys: establishing an organization or enterprise around/under their PC)

20:46 Players as generals, players as the elite squad. RPG as war game (use caution)

24:43 A party to a conflict- investment or property as citizenship (uh-oh!)

25:36 The nihilistic criminal turns into Santa Claus when he gets his own thieves’ guild (as long as they don’t get any ideas)

26:20 Personal PC vignettes at the start of a game / commanding one’s personal, self-established troops, escalating war fiction

28:00 Things to invest in (remember Breezehome?), and side-hustles

29:45 Player-run enterprises as source of social NPCs and legitimate support (and tragedy)

30:49 You don’t want to do Mary Sue GMPCs- but you CAN have powerful allies that the PCs have earned (so long as they aren’t stealing the PCs’ thunder)

31:36 Vendettas & villain-killing: extraordinarily dramatic

33:00 Using powerful allies: battle report as sports game (“held in rapt attention”)

36:59 Let’s get experimental: romance. How do you do romance when you’ve got a player group that’s all straight guys and you’re a straight guy?

41:38 Intensity curve experiment (archetypal storytelling is more about psychological states along the path from integration to disintegration to reintegration than of specific plot points, so it’s improvisable)

47:22 Having the world seem alive (plan ongoing place and world events that will occur even without party input, though they might be preventable and/or alterable if the party cared to intercede)

51:19 Villains are disposable, don’t be a cocktease

52:06 Don’t neglect a robust character chassis development system when creating your own ruleset

53:07 Conclusion

I’ll probably do this again on something else I find interesting and want to figure out, and at some point I’d like to have similarly unscripted discussions on specific elements of gaming and fiction with other people in or out of the RPG blogosphere. We’ll see what happens!

Art - First Run