Saturday, August 27, 2022

ROGUE

This post is an homage to the classes of Lovely Dark, like the FIGHTER and the PALADIN, made out of admiration, enjoyment and prosaic jealousy. It is also the enemy of a previous class I wrote, the BARD.

People call you boring, if they've met you once.

To them, it looks like most of what you do is read, and wait. You seem to read in just that sense that's a good-looking way of doing nothing. They think you don't live in the moment. And in a way that's true. You don't.

They don't know that you are not just you. You are also the Rogue.

And you see a lot more than they do.

Art by Yorinoshi Orhai, 1985

Starting Equipment: A knife, gun or garrote wire. A handheld photo camera. The keys to a house you've never visited. A book to read while waiting.

Skills: 1) Surgeon 2) Hunter 3) Literary Critic 4) Detective 5) Voyeur 6) Burglar

Templates:

A: Lightning-in-the-Window, Sneak Attack
B: Vanishing Point
C: House of Crows and Dolls
D: Highway Ten

Lightning-in-the-Window


Art by Eugene Korolev

You are you. But you are also the Rogue. You are one, and two, and one.

The Rogue isn't any more real than you are. It's not your true identity compared to which you are just a mask, it's just another part of you. You, the mundane and palatable you, is just as real as the Rogue.

But the Rogue is hard to see. It's your secret half, always there, but out of view. When people talk to you, they also talk to the Rogue. When people see you, they also see the Rogue. Even if they don't know it. They tend to think of the Rogue as a seperate person. One that only exists in newspapers, or in dark alleys. A nightmare. Even if they know that you are the Rogue. They will still try to separate the two of you.

But the Rogue always exists.

You have no alignment. Any spell that detects alignment cannot see you. Any effect that targets alignment has no hold on you. Any spell that attempts to divine your intention, guess at your thoughts, determine your motives, has no bearing.

It is so, so very hard, to see you completely.

Sneak Attack


Art by Patryk Hardziej

You love ice. It just makes any drink better.

Moments, instants, seconds, are just like that. They're whole at first, but they melt, slowly, losing their pristine coolness until there's nothing left of them but a lukewarm bottom in your glass.

That's why you love art, too. Books. Pictures. Photographs. Those are the real world. The world that doesn't blink and then is gone. The world unchanging, immutable, preserved and perfect in a soda. There are chemicals, too. Stuff that can keep a body like it's frozen.

It's not about the sensation, or the thrill. That's what they say about the Rogue, what they think it wants. But it's not. It's about the legacy. The gallery. The timeless portfolio.

You are resistant to cold damage, but vulnerable to noise damage.

When revealing your presence as the Rogue, you may make an attack that kills one normal human. Every word of that first sentence is important. Just showing you isn't enough. You need to show the Rogue.

If you have all Rogue templates, it kills non-humans too. Fairies. Gods. Pop stars.


Vanishing Point


Art by Dragan Bibin


You see a lot of places that people don't usually do. Not because they're forbidden, but because they simply don't catch the eye. They're not important for anything. They're places where no one ever needs to be.

They can be as small as a chair in a waiting hall, or as big as a whole building, where people work, come in and out, but never see where they actually are.

You don't vanish. Really, you don't. It's just that you walk into a place nobody takes the time to appreciate, and hardly anyone can follow you, because, well, why would they - there's nothing there. Your only company there are the birds, the Air, and the Darkness.

Even time doesn't come where you go, because it can't bear being alone. It only moves with people. It's a follower. A clingy, noisy cloud. A coward. A fucking pussy.

At any point, you can try to disappear. You simply walk off, out of view. Anyone who was observing you needs to make a Wisdom saving throw to see where you went. The less populated an area is, and the more distance between you and the observer, the more difficult this saving throw.

Additionally, while hidden, you can speak to anyone in your vicinity without giving away your location, as clearly as though you were next to them.

House of Crows and Dolls


Art by Mike Mignola

There are others like you. You can tell the pretenders apart, they don't count. Others who really are like you. Who see the same things.

You don't trust them. Why would you? You can't tell who they are. What they think. You know more than anyone that even if they know the Rogue is there, they can't, really, see you completely. And you can't see them.

You know a place, where people like you gather. Where they leave things, and pick things back up. It's a secret place, unknown to any pursuers, to any casual observers. It is perfectly hidden in plain sight. An old country house. An abandoned steel mill. An office block floor. No one will look for you and yours here. But it is a dangerous place to harbour others. People like you come here.

Once per week, you can either make something disappear forever here, or you can roll for an Other: the Other is a highly competent but untrustworthy hireling with an ulterior motive different from yours. Another player writes down the Other's motive, and doesn't tell you. The Other will aid you with a task, but if they have a chance to fulfill their motive, they may act against your interests.
  1. A realist fiction author, of moderate renown. Eggshell-coloured clothes and hat. He is on a writing retreat to see the country, he always says. Something burns behind his aviator shades.

  2. A Clown Skinner.

  3. A book collector and trader who calls herself V_Woolfe: a plain woman in a brown turtleneck. She claims to have died a few times already, and attracts moths and cicadas.

  4. An old man with a leather jacket and gloves. Wiry and muscular. He calls himself the last real patriot, but it seems his country is not the one you are in. Always smoking.

  5. A slender young woman with Old Hollywood hair, wearing shorts and a jacket over a swimsuit. Outside here, she only ever shows up besides highways. She smells of movie film and rotting meat.

  6. Death. The great black bird. This is gonna be a doozy.

Highway Ten

Art by Gigi Cavenago

You're outside of the law. The law of people, the law of Gods, the law of the Land. You can ride your dark horse over the roads that no man ever laid down. You can drive to the city of Angels in your black Ford Cortina.

You can cover great distances and reach other planes of existence without using magic. You must depart at midnight, and it will remain night for the entirety of your journey, and all stops you make will be dangerous. The more distant your destination, the longer this supernatural journey takes. Going to the other side of the country might 8 hours. Going to another country in the world might take 16. Going to Hell, or Heaven, or Fairyland, might take three days.

You can bring passengers along for the ride. They just have to be dead.




Thursday, July 14, 2022

6 Oddities of the Techworld

Art by Yun Ling

1 - Reflexive Water

It is perfectly normal for water to be reflective. However, reflexive water is more eccentric. Due to heavy pollution with heavy metals, aldehydes and self-assembling latex polymers, many still bodies of water in the Techworld have surface tension like a rubber sheet, and can be stood upon by an average human. A cupful of reflexive water has the physics of a water balloon.

Reflexive water is also highly toxic, carcinogenic and acts as a potent preservative. When looking into reflexive water lakes and pools, it is easy to spot a plethora of dead fish, crustaceans, and rubbish preserved perfectly inside. 

That's why it's a perfect tool of postmodern geology. In fact, the remaining human groups that still concern themselves with the luxury of science come around to put long sensor poles into the stuff, which stick out of pools like giant metal hairs. It tells them things about the last, oh, hundred years or so. Atmospheric conditions, saline contents, pollution levels...animal mutations, of a pole goes straight through a fish by accident.

Sometimes, a leak happens, or the wind blows very hard, and then balls of reflexive water roll out into the concrete and dry grass waste fields, like strange tumbleweeds that give you cancer if you put your bare skin into them.


Art by Yun Ling

2 - The Handshake

In the Flooded City that surrounds the radioactive Forest of Glass, grafitti of a white and black hand shaking litters the remaining concrete surfaces. A collapsed office block has it painted across a whole side of the building. Car wrecks are dwarfed even by the fingers. Scavengers take it for a kind of "peace among tribes" symbol that locals came up with. Its true meaning is a little different.

During the last war, FUNO (Force Unifié Occidentale) and the Sovereign Revolt Party both developed city-sized silicon hive computers that they hoped would win them the conflict. Resting steadily on the graveyards of the labour forces that built them, these glass and plastic palaces came online within 0.2 seconds of each other, being allowed total strategic control over their respective militaries.

In the three seconds that followed, 721 out of 723 FUNO brass and all 614 SRP high commanders were killed by controlled explosions, and both computers destroyed themselves using the hydrogen weaponry at their disposal.

Soldiers on the ship Princeton Diamond later all claimed that they witnessed the materialisation of two figures made of bright light in the air above their vessel, shaking hands and disappearing. The Princeton Diamond's location at the time was near the middle of the shortest-distance line between both computers. Time of observation is congruent with the machines' brief operation time.

The Forest of Glass, a radiation-flooded thicket of molten glass shapes, converges in a large round crater resembling an icy lake - it's covered by a layer of the glassy substance that makes up the forest. On scavenger maps, the Forest is marked as pointless wasteland. The whole forest is rumored to exist simultaneously in two places at once, and people walking in one would appear in the other as ghostly shadows which age anyone who passes through them, at incredible speed.


Art by Zdzisław Beksiński
3 - Ghasts

They lurk in corners of derelict houses, crawl over life support pods in meltdown, haunt the fossils of offices. Despite their intimidating appearance, the creatures known as Ghasts are not malevolent. It's not at all in their nature to attack or even harrass humans. Ghasts are semi-corporeal beings that, as far as they let on, come from deep underground. They always come in groups and fluctuate in and out of shape. That shape is a lanky, bony humanoid with open or skin-covered eye sockets, and an oversized elongated head.

They can speak all languages, but none very well. They can't understand each other through speech but seem to have no need. They have a writing system of symbols, where it appears that all messages can be conveyed through one or two symbols: no examples of Ghast writing longer than two symbols exists, but the symbol variety seems infinite.

When asked what they want, they answer: "Urkie." Ghasts are the only kind of creature that seems to somehow subsist on the ORKUS. They seek it out (it is plentiful in the Techworld's derelict ruins), pick it out of crags with their long fingers, and slurp it up. Whether eating the ORKUS has caused their strange form, or whether they were already so when they came to be, is a mystery. Of the higher sphere phenomena, Ghasts are one of the least understood.

They are not at all numerous enough to stop the spread of the ORKUS. In time it will consume them too, and destroy them. But it's nice to know that for a while, they existed, in spite of all the reasons that they shouldn't.


Art by Moebius

4 - Megacrabs

You didn't really think there wouldn't be humongous apocalypse arthropods trying to separate your guts from your skeleton and slurp you like a Starbucks Viscera Latté, did you?

This one is exactly what it says on the tin.

What made them? Honestly, it's a spin on the wheel of fortune. You'd be better off asking what didn't make them.


Art by Artem Cheboka

5 - Red

It was gone for a while. Pulled from the world during the last war. People say this conflict was so bloody that the colour red was drawn out of the world to fill in all the carnage. Truth is, there have been plenty of wars that spilled more blood. Red didn't leave: it temporarily ceased to exist.

Now, in the Techworld, red is back. The tear in the electromagnetic spectrum is beginning to heal. We know however, that no wound heals without scabbing or scarring. With red, it's no different.

Sometimes red turns white. Then it bubbles up like frying oil, but it's not hot. It solidifies into a salmon-coloured foam. It hardens, then it's marbled, like malachite, and diluted into fatty, greasy shades of orange and pink. If you suck this marbled stuff it'll turn purple, like a jawbreaker candy melting into its next layer of sugary ecdysis. It's quite addictive, but you can survive off it if you have nothing else.

Distilled red, which you can make from the foam before it hardens, is bright like a can of coke, and has the properties of a strong acid. It'll mess up the colour of anything it touches. Everything you need for a workable distillery is under a car's hood. Putting a drop of distilled red in your eye will let you see the colours of the world as they once were. Vibrant. Full of the Bomb's auburn glow.

Splendid.


Art by Natalie Hall

6 - Harrow Power

Humanity has few bastions left in the Techworld. Those that remain are holed up in Geofronts and black pyramids, stricken with all sorts of mad ideas to overcome what has essentially been the verdict that no familiar life may thrive anymore on earth - a signal of doom, and radical change, unknowable save for the bizarre and uncorrelatable phenomena it causes.

One of these mad ideas is Harrow Power. It is the generation of electromagnetic energy by sending angels through Hell.

An "angel" is a highly energetic particle emitted upon dark matter fission. It appears to the eye as a white ball of light the size of a marble, due to its intense brightness contained in the light-bending Aquino Field it generates. At quantum level, its identity is simultaneous with a field resembling wing-like shapes, and a waveform melodious to the human ear.

Hell, then. A reverse Aquino field enhanced with powerful atomic radiation and electromagnetic disturbance. Human flesh burns to powder in point 23 seconds in Hell.

The basic premise of a Harrow Reactor is similar to a particle collider tube. However, inside, Hell is generated over its length and then an angel is shot through it. Angels do not want to exist in Hell, as a matter of physics. Thus, the angel generates, for lack of a better word, friction, in the form of tremendous energy and heat release far, far greater than the power required to create it and maintain Hell.

At the end of the reactor tube, the angel is shot out into a superdeep borehole and causes a radioactive explosion a good twenty kilometers underground.

Allegedly, the inventor of the first Harrow reactor had said:

"God stays in heaven, because he is afraid of what he has created."

Saturday, May 14, 2022

I Love The Blacklance Paragon

Hi. I'm back.

It's been a while since I posted anything, frankly because I've just not had the inspiration, and because I've been working on something that is larger, and upcoming. For now, I have two posts for you.

One of them is Simply Vampires. It will come, soon.

The other is this one.

It's about "Blacklance Paragon," which, according to me, is the perfect Magic: the Gathering card.

The knight in question, by Victor Adame Minguez

Okay. I hear you think: Really? I come here, hoping for some enjoyably purple esoteric je ne sais quoi, and now he's gonna talk about Magic the fucking Gathering.

Yes. Bear with me.

Why is Blacklance Paragon the perfect Magic card? Why should you care? Well, because the things that make Blacklance Paragon good are bigger than Magic. They're design principles for the relation between art and game mechanics, and how to make the most of that relationship.

I think that Blacklance Paragon can make you a better game designer. And I will keep saying its full name.

Let's look at the actual card.


There we go. At a value of not even a dollar, you can get a sinister looking black knight bursting through a thorny thicket on horseback. The Paragon has to be paid for with black mana, which is the spooky evil mana that you also use to pay for things like zombies and skeletons and spells fuelled by lots of creatures dying. Remember that last one.

So, at first sight the Paragon probably villainous, because it has this gothic black knight thing going on, but it's also a bit heroic: the pose is determined, we've got the dramatic roses being flung up around it, and it's called paragon, which sounds quite noble. It's also got somewhere to be, which is why it's going fast. Its appearance is sudden, ripping through the scenery to burst into its own portrait. That's the visual identity of this character: what you can tell about it just by looking at it.

Now let's look at the mechanics.

First of all, the Paragon has "Flash". In Magic, that means you can play it at any time, even when you normally can't put new monsters on the field, like during your opponent's turn. It's meant to catch your opponent by surprise. It also only costs two mana, which is a small cost that, if you leave it open for use after your turn, your opponent might reasonably overlook. Black mana isn't known for having lots of sudden counterspell or trick cards either.

Then comes the kicker: when the Paragon comes into play, you can give a Knight type monster you control "Deathtouch" (it destroys any monster that it hits) and "Lifelink" (any damage it deals is restored to your player life total) until the end of the turn. The Paragon is itself a Knight type monster, so you can have it come in and immediately apply this effect to itself.

In other words, the Paragon is here to (a) kill something, and (b) give you some life back, making sure you can survive a little bit longer. It has a short window of time to do this (until the end of turn), but it can come in with the element of surprise, because it has "Flash."

Its power and toughness are 3 and 1. That means it'll deal 3 damage (meaning you get 3 life back), but if it takes so much as one measly point of damage, it'll die.


"Smitten Swordmaster," another Knight from the same set.
Art by Taylor Ingvarsson.

What this means is that when you play Blacklance Paragon, it will probably go like this:

Your opponent has a big horrible monster. It's their turn, and you don't have much in terms of defenders that will be able to stop it - you're on the ropes. They declare the attack. The enormous, terrible beast is coming straight towards you, with more than enough power to end the game if it hits you in the face. Your fate seems inevitable.

And then you flash in Blacklance Paragon. 

It appears out of nowhere, charging into the battlefield to save you. You can use it to block the monster in the nick of time, and kill it to boot because your Paragon has "Deathtouch" for one turn. You regain some life because of the Paragon's "Lifelink," meaning you can hang on for just a little bit longer, and get another chance at victory. In this noble deed, however, the Paragon with its toughness of 1 gives its life stopping the lethal threat.

Its visual and mechanical identity converge. This dastardly-looking, dark-armoured deadly Black-lanced knight, appears suddenly at high speed and with a mission. With no regard for danger it tears through enormous thorns to save you and protect your life, at the cost of its own. Because it's a Paragon.

But it's also a black mana creature. This noble act furthers the cruel goal of the greater power that it serves. When Blacklance Paragon saves you like this, not just a creature of the enemy dies, but one of yours too. That's twice as much death to work with for cards like Syr Konrad the Grim (who makes your opponent lose life when creatures die), or Open the Graves (which creates zombies when your creatures die).

"Syr Konrad the Grim", a legendary death-loving knight from the Paragon's set.
Art by Anna Steinbauer.

What I've just demonstrated is the bottom line of this post. Everything the Blacklance Paragon does in the game is represented perfectly in the art it actually has. The flavour hits exactly the same spot as the dry, mechanical function of the card.

So, what's the strength of Blacklance Paragon?

Its strength is art that tells you not only what a monster is, but also what it's going to do. Blacklance Paragon doesn't require your imagination to think up a story for it, because it has a story that's in both its art and mechanics, and that has nothing to do with whatever's in the superfluous flavour text is underneath it, or god forbid, in the lore.

And I just think that's neat.


Friday, December 17, 2021

BARD

This post is an homage to the classes of Lovely Dark, like the Fighter and the Paladin, made out of admiration, enjoyment and prosaic jealousy. Please go read those, and if you already have, do it again. 

-

The first symptom of the illness is exhaustion. 

So they say, but you know better. The chirurgeons in their laboratories do not walk among the people like you do. They do not sit at the table of the world like you. They see it through still-lives: corpses. That is their table. Medicine is the worship of paintings. The elegiac science, to which the living body is blank and unwhole, lacking the completing touch that only death may grant it.

Doctors are your enemies.

Illness has no heart that schemes in the body, first letting loose its smallest and only then its most vicious knaves. Illness is singular and emergent. It grows like a moon-pale flower, first a bud, then a stem, then bileous petals. Like with the parts of this flower, the appearance of different symptoms is only an illusion, distracting from the truth that they are all the same plant, and they occur not as a collection, but as transformations of the original smallest form.

Exhaustion is not a symptom. It is the bud. The seed of destruction, dispersed around the world on the wind.

You will see that it never sprouts. Because you are a healer, not an embalmer. You are an agent of the bon-vivance. The ceaseless rancour beats in you. You never sleep. You cannot sleep.

Art by Nguyen Bao Tin

Starting Equipment: A bottle of strong liquor. A book of wild and invigorating tales, poems, songs, which you wrote. A pair of scissors. An unforgettable face. 

Skills: 1) Opera Singer 2) Escape Artist 3) Gambler 4) Smuggler 5) Revolutionary 6) Ballerina

Templates:

A: Flowerpicker, Cabaret and Cabinet
B: Main Brûlant
C: Amour-Fractur
D: Prince of Cowards

Flowerpicker

Art by Coohdraws

Your master - or more accurately your patron - is the rumbling noise in the human heart. The Clamour, which includes amour not at all by accident. You can feel these tremors in your body, and in those of others. When you listen to their footsteps, you can hear it. When they slug you in the face, you shameless bacchant, you can feel it. In the shaking earth, the seeds of death cannot take hold. The white flowers cannot drink blood and grow tall. You can see those too. The illnesses. You can take your scissors and cut them away. But only as long as you move, dance, tremble.

You don't gain benefits from resting. Instead, you gain benefits from bustling, running amok and capering. To regain yourself, you must spend time in crowded clamour, in the same measure another would have to spend resting. While doing this you can remove colds, coughs, rashes, tiredness and aches from twice as many people as you have templates, or you can cure one serious disease, like leprosy or lockjaw.

Attempts at forcing you to sleep, occult or otherwise, always fail.


Cabaret and Cabinet

Art by Thomas Eakins, 1889

People do not forget you easily, especially your enemies. The white-and-black servants of the elegiac science loom in the shadows with hooks and scalpels drawn when you wander through the streets alone at night. At all times they seek to grab you in their cold, wet hands and snuff you out. They want your bandaged body to sit behind glass in their walnut-wood and marble halls, your organs displayed in a tutor's deathly sculpture. They want your dust in vials, and their canvas daubed in your mummy brown. They want to cut the masterpiece from your flesh.

It's dangerous for you to be alone. When you're unaccompanied for more than a few minutes, one of the following creatures will come from the shadows with the intent to kill you and abduct your body:
  1. Doctor in white clothing, with a scalpel and bone saw.
  2. Living mummy.
  3. Invisible man who leaves black foot- and handprints.
  4. Large vulture.
  5. Three zombies.
  6. Large black greyhound
  7. Person you affronted during your last clamouring
  8. Venomous cobra snake.
Chirurgeons, pharmacists, barbers, painters, morticians and gravediggers do not count as company for this effect.


Main Brûlant

Art by Laura Knight, 1922

Passion is heat. The rancour of the heart is what fuels the human body against the silence of cold, making its muscle shake and praying by friction. You can elevate your tremor: bring the heat of your heart to a burning point and make your body shiver so hard that it blurs in the eye and becomes as hot as a stove. This is the revolutionary's dance. The devil's tango that he taught to the atoms, ending the wholly solid world. The pirouette that lights ballerinas like match sticks. The Main Brûlant.

By preparing through dance, riot or music for an hour, for the next hour physical attacks made against you have a 1-in-4 chance to pass through you without a trace. Additionally, you can touch any target to set it on fire. Paintings, books, and flowers all burn much faster than they normally would. 

While in Main Brûlant, you can cure serious illnesses like leprosy or lockjaw through touch, but it is painful and you leave burn marks.

If you stop moving, fall over, or get hit by a dousing gout of water, this effect ends.


Amour-Fractur

Art by Beneš Knüpfer, 1890

You're always on the run. Despite this, words find their way to you and from you. In the cities any letter or message will find you, even as you carouse through the jubilant festive night with neither home nor name nor address. It might find you at an inopportune time, but it will find you nonetheless. Even when the letter is burnt, torn, or locked away behind steel, its contents will not rest until they've reached your ear.

You can hand a letter, or speak a message, to anyone who is not your outright enemy. It will end up with the person you mean to receive it, as rapidly as normal correspondence would, but yours cannot be intercepted.

In your clothing you keep hundreds of letters, from former lovers, adorers and comrades whom you've left behind in your perpetual flight from the worshippers of Death. A teary mantle of parting gifts. The Amour-Fractur. They're full of details pertaining secret passages, hidden alcoves, sunset rooftops and other When-I-See-You-Agains. Whenever you clamour, you can find one of these phantoms of fleeting love, and discover a corridor between two places known to you that only you, and an old passion, are aware of.


Prince of Cowards


There is joy in you. So much is clear. But more fundamentally there is dread in you. A sneaking fear that both fuels your fight against the elegiacs, and weighs down on your shoulders. It lights a fire under your arse and bounces you through the night as you run from it, from festival to pub to carnival. That's all you ever do. Ever did do. Run. Isn't there a saying...

"It takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place."

Humans do not live forever. Neither do you.

There is a higher sphere in the human body - you know this. Something like the soul but more wild, muscular and hairy. It's inhabited by the spawn of the Red Queen's savage daughters, shaking the bars when they are awake. Faceless apes that eat flesh and beat the drums. This place gives you the power to run away so effortlessly from the black marble doors that are worshipped with corpse paint. 

It can never run empty. It is forever: the inexhaustible perpetuum mobile. The sin against thermodynamics. But you... to keep turning the earth of your body, and to let no flowers root, you always need more boiling ape blood to come through.

When the time comes you'll have to choose: become a thing unceasing, and let the apes take you to that thundering thoughtless dark within, or die. Either way, you'll surrender.

Wounds do not slow you down, and do not reduce your strength or your charm. When the white flowers of pain and sickness sprout from your body, the boiling ape blood in your veins poisons them in turn. They turn red and black and pink and they become tangible like anxious flesh, turning to vicious coiling snakes. For every tenth of your total HP that you've lost, a blood-flower serpent grows from your body that can attack your enemies (as a standard snake creature).

As long as you are not wholly, utterly dead, you are alive.

When you do die, your body ignites like a wick. The final escape.

Les Misérables.


Monday, November 22, 2021

Simply Liches (and d50 eerie museum exhibits)

A Lich can only walk and stand on bone. Leichenteppich, or tapis des carcasses, is the characteristic covering of skeletal remains found where a Lich has made its home.

Lichdom is older than humans. When the world was more pure and young, and the Ur-Ghast was only a small hateful pool in some subterranean locker, it was already here. Enormous beasts roamed the earth then, far larger than they can now ever be. Pteranodons flocked around fur-bearing many-limbed giants flinging spells at each other that could level mountains. The sea boiled and plants summoned magma demons that crawled out from between tectonic plates to destroy their enemies (slightly taller plants).

Compared to then, what humans do now is baby magic.

We have to go back further still. The Thaumocambrian, in the oceans, when an explosion of experimental metaphysiologies created the first protean magic. This led to the evolution of terrestrimancers: cartilage-scaled wizards left their soft-bodied and poriferous sisters behind to become the land giants' progenitors.

Liches were already among these creatures.

In the earliest dark, minuscule zooplankton critters wielded the bubbling fire from black smokers in translucent mini-wizard combat, setting protoplasmic brutes on each other that they teleported to the battle in flashes of tiny lightning. These wars left clouds of skeleton debris floating in the water of the early Earth, bearing the silica and chalk that would make the sediments of the new world. Each was like a letter in a game of scrabble, where the words were new, dark spells.

The first lich began in this littlest boneyard. It was fleeing from hex worms ridden by rotifer ice-casters, and as it cowered among the skeletons, it touched the intricate configuration of magically charged bones that had formed in the wizard wars' wake. It became connected to a kind of thing that would take a few more millenia to develop from flesh: a brain. A siliceous bone-brain-computer.

Liches must build their Leichenteppich out of bones of their own kind. Same species always works. Adjacent families are more difficult. A different group altogether is impossible.

THIS LICH IS ...
  1. ... a coral. Its Leichenteppich is an underwater three-dimensional matrix of bleached tubes and folds, a web of glass and porous stone.

  2. ... an insect. Its Leichenteppich is made of carapaces of hundreds of arthropod species. Towers made of centipede shells, millions of segmented legs and antennae, husk upon beetle husk.

  3. ... a mollusc. Though limited by the lack of true bones, these liches make their Leichenteppich out of conches and shells, leading them to produce haunting horn-blowing sounds echoing across reef islands and abandoned dockyards.

  4. ... a fish. Endless stretches of herringbones make up its Leichenteppich like spiny cables, connecting pale sea urchin-like patches of fish bones on the sea floor.

  5. ... a dinosaur. Colossal skeletons have been dragged together to build its tyrannical Leichenteppich, covering a whole valley in bones thick as tree trunks.

  6.  ... a bird. Its Leichenteppich, a construction of hollow bones and leathery sails, controls the wind with occult flute sounds. It glides through the air between barren mountains.

  7. ... an elephant. The many tusks give its Leichenteppich a horned appearance. Some elephant tribes revere their liches and give their bones to them when they die. Much dark wizardry was learned from elephants by early hominids.

  8. ... a human. Human liches are not particularly more intelligent than those of other animals, but they do have an easier time manipulating their species, because humanity is full of death cults.
Art by Tuiles

SCENES OF THE COMMON LICH:
  1. A planktonic lich has gotten stuck in the fishing nets. It looks like a glassy filamentous sponge the size of a mango and glints ominously. The fishermen throw it back, as they usually do.

  2. Photographs of an elephant lich are framed on the wall at a rangers' lodge, among trophies and other oddities. It was killed and the Leichenteppich broken apart for ivory long ago. Some of the stools are made of elephant leg bones.

  3. A mouse lich has made its home in a chapel tower, formed from the remains in owl pellets. The friars, alerted by owl carcasses found at the tower's base, trundle up the stairwell in their beekeeping garb with rakes and prayer scrolls to remove it.

  4. A large gray growth disfigured the angling pier. It turned out to be a barnacle lich, and had turned two unsuspecting anglers into crustacean abominations. The pier stays abandoned, misty and ominous, until removers come. Sometimes zombie fish crawl out, scuttling on their ribs.

  5. Factory workers clean developing haddock liches out of the fish waste containers.

  6. A tenant is found dead in his apartment, bewitched by a cockroach lich that had formed in a hollow area between the fridge and the dishwasher, after regular ineffective use of insect poison. A health and safety nightmare for the landlord.

  7. A haunted area of the beach, where terrible wails are said to echo through the night, is plagued by a conch lich that has gotten stuck in the rocks with the tide.

  8. A young woman who enjoys nightly swims actually goes out to learn occult secrets from a starfish lich, which covers the entire inner surface of a seaside cave. Her skin is rough and covered in small spikes now.

Photography by Loren McIntyre

Phylacteries are the segments of the Leichenteppich that store an informational image of the lich. The instructions to recreate the lich's body and mind, in other words. In the case of planktonic liches, these phylacteries can be quite small and therefore, it's easy for the lich to build dozens and dozens of them, giving it nigh infinite regeneration redundancy. 

As you scale up to higher animals, however, the complexity of the body increases exponentially, and so does the size of a single phylactery. This puts liches of higher animals in a bind: they have to spend a lot of the bones they gather on phylactery construction, have less to spare for occult processing power outside of that, have less redundancy if a phylactery is destroyed, and have a bigger target for foes of the lich to hit.

This causes liches of higher animals to be more cunning with their Leichenteppich design. Instead of just honeycombing in all directions, they lay thin strands of femurs and ribs down to hidden phylacteries underground, split the phylactery into co-operating parts that can each be replaced quickly, and so on and so on.

This means that if you're fighting a lich, finding its phylacteries should be a puzzle. Is there a single target? Multiple? Is it split into parts that have to be destroyed simultaneously, as otherwise the remaining parts would recreate the one you've destroyed?

This seemingly impossible task never leaves you without a thread to follow, however: all parts of the Leichenteppich have to be connected via bone, even if it's a cable of single femurs. You'll have to make sure you know what the whole thing looks like before you strike.

Fighting an advanced lich requires espionage.

Art by Zdzisław Beksiński

As they are bound to their Leichenteppich, it is typical for a lich not to work alone. Through messengers, astral projection, appearing in dreams and speaking from corpses, liches organise their minions across vast stretches of land. There are many who would serve a lich willingly, if they are well enough rewarded with power, money, or a satisfying purpose. Besides these cretins, a lich is a master of necromancy and its magical prowess allows it to summon plenty of demons and other horrible abominations from the nightosphere.

SERVANTS OF THE LICH:

Deboned zombies slither over the ground like tiger carpet flatworms. Their bones were taken to enrich their master, and now their flesh blubbers and writhes forward. They move like contortionists, clamber down the drainpipes, and slink away into the sewer grate like an octopus into a pickle jar.

By blowing bonemeal of their original skeleton into the air like fairy dust, liches can make swarms of  Dust Demons, leathery gremlinous homunculi that collect bones and eat flesh. These dust demons, the size of dogs, are a cross between a vulture and a piranha, with lots of stuff like cows, crows and bats mixed in there too. They bolster a Lich's legions and clean the Leichenteppich with their beaks to prevent the ORKUS from taking root on it.

Ghasts are half-corporeal spirits that are attracted from underground by large masses of corpses, bones and death. Their appearance is that of mummy-like emaciated humanoids with tall heads, no eyes, and large teeth. They're scavengers common to battlefields and mass graves, prowling for what they call "Urkie," possibly referring to the ORKUS. They have five stages of metamorphosis, respectively called mummy (as described), maggot, centipede, orb, and angel.

Art by John Ken Mortensen

EXAMPLE LICHES:

Calcinegra is a dark sorcerer from folk legend and children's boogeyman tales who walks on ladders made of bones that stretch across the sky. In his most well-known story, he walks all the way from Paris to Madrid in one the night, on a ladder so high that he has to sate his hunger by eating the birds that he catches as they fly by. The true Calcinegra was the Spanish king's court mage, committing a coup and filling the palace with bones during the ensuing civil war, where he was ultimately defeated by a militant priest leading the remains of the king's army into battle. The ladder stories, though, are completely true.

The Mouse Machine is a mouse lich trapped in a large metal coffer by the wizard Dolt Wiseney, who travels to courts with it, using it as an attraction and fortune telling device. Behind the wondrous sharade, Wiseney is dogged by the lich's whispering and cursing, and the dark beings it sends to haunt and torment him, biting at his sanity as he tries to edure it for the fame and gold his shows bring him.

The Hallowaite Cliffs, stately and pale, have a reputation for being haunted and appear in many a ghost story about disappearing fishing boats, travellers becoming zombies, and terrifying apparitions. In truth, these chalk cliffs are a colossal planktonic lich that lures people to it at night, enchanting them and making them part of its cult. The nearby villagers go out in white robes at night to sacrifice, chant and call prehistoric monsters from the deep sea.

Salobriel of the Evening City lives in a cavern deep in the underdark where the floor is an endless misty sunset sky. In the cavern sits an upside-down city of black spires and cathedrals, built entirely out of giant spider carapace. It is inhabited by polluted elves driven mad by the influence of the dread scarlet sky, by giant bats, and by pale carapaceless undead spiders that jump from tower to tower. Salobriel's web spans the city: she uses it to catch fairies and spin reality-bending fabric from their bodies. Though only an vain ornament to Salobriel, this fabric is priceless among wizards who use it to sail the starlight with disregard for time and space. Many seek to buy or steal it. Few return from the spider lich's Evening City alive or sane, regardless of their intentions.

All tree liches were exterminated early in evolution by all other living things, and the knowledge of their creation erased, on a common threat principle.


BONUS: D50 Eerie Museum Exhibits
  1. Set of bottled embryos. Some pig, some human. Some could be either.
  2. Pigeon's head and digestive tract, set in glass.
  3. Lampreys in tall vials.
  4. Preserved head of the last man executed by guillotine in the country.
  5. Cabinet of waxy hands and fingers.
  6. Assembly of long, hooked embalming tools.
  7. Assembly of longer, even more hooked tools for child birth.
  8. Bottled curse ointments, with ingredient lists.
  9. Old baby practice dolls for midwifery.
  10. Anomalous "vampire" skull with multiple rows of teeth, in all shapes and sizes.
  11. Illuminated manuscript in glass case, open on pages detailing ritual scalping.
  12. Large black stone coffin. Featureless. Inscribed with texts an ancient language.
  13. Sandstone sarcophagus, lid displaying a sculpted pharaotic figure with a gaunt face.
  14. Very large, nigh-comically terrifying saw for bones.
  15. Taxidermied man-ape, ghoul or hominid.
  16. Set of normal human skeletons. Spooky!
  17. Large inside-view wooden model of the human eye.
  18. Wooden anatomy dummy with removable, realistically painted stuffed cloth viscera.
  19. Old, rusted bicycle twisted in the middle, putting the front half upside down.
  20. Three mummies under glass, one's face is unbandaged and stares upwards in a silent, contorted scream.
  21. Dresses from an extremely boring fashion period, worn by skeletal wire mannequins.
  22. Antique grammophone with LP of classical music called "Carmen Decem Noctibus."
  23. Snuff boxes containing cosmetics made from human ash, grease, bonemeal.
  24. "The Long Arm," a preserved human arm with six elbows, over seven feet long.
  25. Collection of cow skulls with enormous, heavy horns.
  26. Room full of fake, ever-blooming but uncanny flowers.
  27. A donkey's jawbone, covered in blood. Its glass case is constantly guarded.
  28. Gargantuan Hieronymus Bosch-esque medieval triptych depicting giant mushroom clouds and bomber plane-shaped demons.
  29. Translation tablet, inscribed in Sumerian and another mysterious language. Contained in anti-radiation glass, surrounded by safety rope fence.
  30. Three large photo prints of a moustached man eating ghost peppers, progressively more flustered, crying, and milk dripping from chin.
  31. Crystal reliquary bottle filled with tears of the first pope.
  32. Collection of human lips, formerly owned by a cannibal serial killer.
  33. Fingernails of three feet long, in a glass display.
  34. Human skeleton coated in goopy marbled mixture of lead and gold, contorted in agony. Labelled: "Philosopher's Stone"
  35. Submarine's periscope, disembodied.
  36. Set of long, heavy plane bombs. One is bisected to reveal a human skeleton hunched inside.
  37. Rusty, dented cannister bearing the word "ORKGAZ", behind thick air-tight glass.
  38. Fighter jet pilot outfit complete with round-goggled helmet and breathing mask. The gear has gothic architecture patterns and the breathing tube goes to a ceremonial censer.
  39. Andy Warhol-like pictures, but all items and humans are turned away from the viewer.
  40. Abnormally long pitchfork. No clarifying label.
  41. Spiked carriage wheels on poles. Text plaque details their use for torture and execution.
  42. Wreckage of a 1980s car, surrounded by plastic replica cockroach people and "WAFFLE HOUSE" sign.
  43. Framed movie poster for "The Tally", displays gangsters and sunset city vista, but the sun is a large eye.
  44. Series of knives used by medieval butchers, accompanied by animal bones.
  45. Brass cubic puzzle box in thick glass case, surrounded by framed newspaper articles of mysterious slaughter.
  46. Large skeletal fossil fish with jagged menacing teeth, hung on the wall.
  47. A set of dried monkey paws, in various states of finger-curling.
  48. An airtight glass cilinder, five feet high and one foot wide, filled entirely with fleshy semiliquid mass. Labelled "Barovia Sample, Date N/A."
  49. A lateral section of a Ghoul, in a glass pane. The intestines and stomachs form near-infinite fractals.
  50. Dark crystalline orb. Paired with warning sign advising against pondering it.