Tuesday, July 28, 2020

V_Woolfe's Lost Shipments (Esoteric Enterprises spells and grimoires)

"Whisper blows across a Colorado field that's dry as bones. V_Woolfe is sitting in a plastic lawn chair underneath the rusty clouds that crawl by, reading, at last with nothing on her mind. There's a black-suited man next to her, who stares at the clouds with mournful attention. The fire in a car that crashed into a boulder earlier flaps in the wind like a flag. Time has progressed past the twenty-four mark and now, every hour is apostasy. She is going to die in three hours. Never mind that, though. It's a good book."

Who's to say what becomes of people like V_Woolfe, who chew on the dark stringy hyphae of the mycelium that stretches across America. Smuggling and internet sales of occult literature was easier in Europe, she always held, but that's not really true. It's different. In America, the roads are longer. More stuff gets lost. Not stolen, but lost lost.

Here's some books that might have gotten lost in transit.

(These books contain both spells that are and aren't in the base game. The ones that aren't are listed at the end.)

Art by Nokse Mojo

The Suitcase from Berlin

"It never left the safe behind a dadaist painting in an upstate New York apartment, like it was supposed to. Now it's sitting there, waiting for a train that'll never come because the conductor is turned to insects and the engine was pawned." 

Thaumaturgy and Marx's Theory of Labour, by Sotiria Dimopoulos, 19th century. Greek.
Spells: Blood to Money, Trace Power, Speak With Engine

The Eastern Account, by Hans Mauer, 20th century. German.
Spells: Peephole, Remove Identity, Protection from Weapons

The Sunken Box

"It was thrown overboard just outside a California industrial harbour town. The paranoid smuggler was shot two days later, and the bay combed, but the metal box was never found. They had to shoot the smuggler again, then, on a stormy evening in the hotel bar. And then they had to run him over with their car while driving to Vegas."

Anchovie Shanties, by unknown, 19th century.
Spells: Delirium, Raise Fishes, Octopus Flesh

The Dig, and other Tales, by Reverend J. Asher, 20th century.
Spells: Ignore Stench, Travel By Night, Speak With Insects

The Empty Car

"The driver went for a piss besides the road at night and saw a light in the distance. He started walking towards it and never came back. Now it's just sort of standing in the desert, where nobody cares to remove it. A coyote lives under it, and sand on the wind has stripped off the majority of the paint."

House With a Pool, by Diana Perez, 21th century. Spanish.
Spells: Blood in the Water, Know Guilt, Paranoia

Kentucky Cannibal Witch-King, by John Saul, 21th century.
Spells: Dopethrone, Gun Mouth, Flay

The Crate in the Forest

"It's stamped with the sign of a shipping company, but the logo is barely visible on the weathered wood under filthy plastic tarp. The crate lies in a forestial crevice just south of the Canadian border, in a contorted metallic nest of the pickup it was being carried by. There are no roads for miles, all dense forest, no car tracks."

The Kalyagin Anthology, by Maksim Kalyagin, 21st century. Russian.
Spells: Speak Through Corpse, Invisibility, Tunnel

My Time in Oregon, by unknown, 21st century.
Spells: Inhabit Animal, Weather, Floating Eye

Art by Sergey Kolesov


Blood to Money (rank 4, range touch, duration instantanous): You drain a living person of their energy and health, and it will convert itself into paper money, similar to what they could have made by the labour you've extracted from their body. The stronger the body, the bigger the wads of dollars. Curiously, Blood to Money is one of the few spells dependent on the state of the economy. The victim can Save against Magic to still be affected by the spell but make it not produce any money.

Trace Power (rank 3, range touch, duration instantaneous): By touching an item imbued with power or authority, either magical or mundane (a legislative document, a towering building, or even a plot of valuable land works just as well as a magical barrier), you can discover the identity of the holder(s) of its power. Can also be used on people to discover their employers. Anyone/anything that can do so has an opportunity to Save against Magic to resist the effect.

Speak with Engine: As Techspeak, but with machines that have an engine.

Peephole (rank 1, range touch, duration 1 minute per level): The caster makes appear a hole in a solid surface, and accordingly, somewhere on the surface of that same material (the concrete of a building, the soil of a plot of land, the caster, the metal of a crane, ...) another hole appears at a location of the caster's choosing. The caster can look through the hole and see out the other end, or put their ear to it and listen, but not both at the same time.

Remove Identity (rank 5, range touch, duration permanent): The caster targets an item or a person, and any written records, pictures and videos of them are erased. People notice this: they can tell there are suddenly blanks where a name, a description or a picture of a person should be. For one day per level, it remains impossible to create any permanent record of the target. Descriptors that do not name the target, like "My brother's hiking buddy" don't disappear. This spell takes longer to cast the more famous the target object or person is. When targeting an object, only reference to that object is erased, not to similar objects or objects of the same make, brand or appearance.

Delirium (rank 2, range 30ft, duration as long as caster remains intoxicated): The caster shares the effect of their intoxication with any creatures that can be affected by it within range. These creatures can Save against Poison to resist its effects.

Raise Fishes (rank 4, range 30ft, duration 1 minute per level): Around the caster, any body of water or device that produces water or accepts water, like a tap, a showerhead, a drain, a pump, a well, etc. begins to produce and expel dead and live fish and fleshy sea creatures. This tide of fish will quickly fill up indoor spaces, but decay more quickly than usual when the spell ends (though not instantly).

Ignore Stench (rank 1, range self or touch, duration 10 minutes per level): The caster can ignore any Saves required to be made, and other negative effects, that are brought about by overwhelming or disgusting smells.

Travel by Night (rank 3, range self or one vehicle, duration one nightly travel): So long as the sun is down and you remain in transit, a small burning flame persists in the air above your head or vehicle and your journey will be relatively unobstructed. All but the most severe weather will not affect you, weak creatures will not attack you and weak magic cannot affect you. Strong creatures or magic can Save against Magic to overcome this effect, but when they do you sense their approach.

Speak with Insects: As Speak with Animals, but allows the caster to speak with any insects rather than a specific type, but not with other animals.

Speak through Corpse (rank 2, range 1 mile per level., duration 1 minute per level): The caster can speak through the mouth/throat of a human corpse that they know the appearance of. If the caster knows of multiple corpses within the range, they can speak through them simultaneously. This spell can be cast to also hear what the corpse hears, but this limits the scope to one chosen corpse.

Tunnel (rank 5, range self, duration 1 minute per level): The caster becomes able to walk through dirt, rock and concrete without resistance, leaving a human-shaped tunnel. They do not fall through it, but can walk downwards in an incline to descend, like going down a hill. The caster cannot pass through metal.

Inhabit Animal (rank 4, range touch, duration 1 hour per level): The caster can inhabit the body of one mundane animal no larger than a tiger, crawling into them and effectively controlling their body. From the moment this happens the animal is by all means dead, but will still register as alive while you inhabit it. When leaving the animal, the caster tears out of it, even when the animal is much smaller than the caster.

Weather (rank 3, range one area, duration instantaneous): The caster learns with certainty the weather that will occur in a particular area, and can appeal to it as though persuading a person to change slightly, but not drastically. If it's already going to rain, you can persuade it to become a monsoon, but not if it would normally have been sunny.

Blood in the Water (rank 1, range self, duration 15 minutes per level): The caster becomes hyperaware of the scent of blood in the air and the water, allowing them to follow trail-like scents of those who have passed through the area while bleeding.

Gun Mouth (rank 2, range self, duration 1 round per level): The barrel of a heavy machine gun comes out of the caster's mouth, which they can use to attack (as assault rifle) for the duration of the spell, though the shaking of the gun rattles their head and makes their eyes look like googly ones when you shake them. The caster must make a Save vs Stun or be concussed when the spell ends.

Paranoia (rank 5,  range 10ft per level, duration instantaneous): Like with the Fear spell, chosen targets within the radius Save vs Magic, or irrationally believe that they are followed, observed, hunted or otherwise the target/under threat of an entity of the caster's specification. The spell will gently change their perception of reality to fall more in line with this belief. This latter effect, and any magical forcing of the belief caused by the spell, is considered a curse for the purposes of removing it. However, it may still leave lasting psychological effects even after the spell ends.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Professor Vlinderkaai's Sempervivarium

"Ever since its dawn, the human race has tried its hand at defying death, and in a sense its efforts have grown ever more succesful. And yet, for all the years we have stolen from the reaper's bony clutches, little is different about how we live them. The back of grandmother still gives out, the joints of the old ironsmith still ache. In fact, our attempts at cheating that thing on the pale horse have only resulted in it cheating us in kind: those years we've won are naught but feeble embers at the end of our time, rather than the flames of youth we so desire.

Therefore my ventures in this life have been to combat not that blade that must swing when all is done, but that clock whose hand we may hold still, to never let ring its twilight hours."

-- Professor Dr. Joris Vlinderkaai, prologue to his first book

Dramatic as he was, professor Vlinderkaai nonetheless put his money where his mouth was and sank a great deal of resources into that dream of his: to find the cause, and by extension the cure, for ageing. To this end, he used his allowances from the University, and when that ran out, all of his family fortune to travel the world, collect extraordinary specimens, and perform bizarre experiments to further his understanding of the ageing process. These ventures found their heart in Vlinderkaai's base of operations during the latter half of his life: a great terraced house on Island Street, transformed over the years into a laboratory known to his neighbours as "That bespectacled madman's unholy petting zoo- bloody hell, the racket those monkeys make! And the constables just let him carry on!" and to his colleages at the University as the Sempervivarium.

On his sixtieth birthday, Dr. Joris Vlinderkaai disappears without a trace. When going to look for him in his Sempervivarium, the University staff finds it to be full of reality-defying monstrosities and the insane works of professor Vlinderkaai's obsession. They run out howling. Someone more stern or more expendable must delve into the laboratory instead.

If you're playing an alt-history type game, this outlandish abode would be located in Amsterdam. If not, then it can be in whatever early 20th-century city with a university you'd like it to be.

Art by Mike Mignola

The Foyer (Entrance)

The Sempervivarium's foyer as you find it built in 19th-century colonial style, is dusty and the walls are covered in framed family portraits. They are all different families, and each frame has a piece of paper attached to them noting all of the members' ages, remarks on their diets, their blood types, and so on. It seems the whole hall functions as some sort of large scoring board. Next to the coffee table there is a Chinese vase containing ocean floor slib that houses a 300-year old talking clam named Ming. It seems to have memorised random fragments of conversation in the hallway, both yours and those of Vlinderkaai and his visitors. A set of bell jars containing increasingly worn skeletal knee joints are set on a drawer and a glass case with pinned flies whose wings have deteriorated is mounted on the wall.

Every time you enter a new room, roll a 1d6. If it's 1-3, you find random rooms repurposed into laboratories with jars of fruit flies, liquid medium full of tiny worms, mice in various states of dissection and preservation, bookcases, diagrams on the walls, and so on. In each of these you will encounter one Creature. If it's 4-6, you find one of the following rooms. Roll a d6 to know which. In them you have a 1 in 6 chance to encounter a Creature.

1 - The Okinawa Room:

A large greenhouse-like room that reproduces the setting of a Japanese rural village. It is populated exclusively by people over 100 years old. They eat very little, and will find it impolite if you eat excessively in front of them or take more than your small share. Unaware that they are living in a laboratory. When they find out they react as you would expect.

2 - The Mitochondric Room:

A room full of chemical apparatus and glass tanks with highly reactive oxygen mixtures. Getting into contact with them causes damage, mutations, and this. Tread very very carefully- the pipes of the apparatus are all quite leaky.

3 - The Early Room:

A room with beds and wheelchairs that house people with various afflicitons of fast ageing: children with wrinkled skin, arthritis and grey hair stare at you miserably. A baboon in a doctor's outfit feeds them pale beige pudding and tends to them as well as a baboon can.

4 - The Pygmy Room:

A room containing many animals, all of which are smaller versions of themselves. Small mice, small birds, small reptiles, etc. You feel like a giant in this room. All of the animals' cages have labels with their ages: they are far older than they should be for their species.

5 - The Monkey Room:

A bizarre cross between a cocktail bar and a surgeon's room. Many open cages hang from the ceiling. Full of baboons, doing baboon things. Will freak out if you look like a surgeon or approach the surgical equipment, leave you alone or serve you at the bar otherwise. Many of the bottles in the bar bear the label "extract," and most of the monkeys lack their usual testicles. Above the bar there is a portrait of a man with a moustache labeled "My Unfortunate Colleague" If you fall asleep in the Monkey Room, the moustachioed doctor character will come out of his portrait, scaring away all the baboons, and try to sew monkey balls into your body. When cut he turns back into portrait canvas.

6 - The Bristlecone Room:

Room dominated by a gnarled pale tree sitting in the middle of the room in a soil basin. It has been abducted from its usual place high up in the American rock mountains, is over 5000 years old, and would like to go back.

The Frozen Room:

You find this room after all previous rooms have been explored. It's Vlinderkaai's study, most of which is frozen over. In a big block of ice behind the desk sits the professor's body, curled up, desiccated and partially transformed into a tardigrade-like creature. Vlinderkaai's epilogue (see end of post) as well as his valuable unpublished research are on the desk, and the study contains many other valuable works on science, medicine, and the paranormal.

Art by Mike Mignola

1 - The Elegancy:

A floating, translucent, featureless worm the size of a fat boa constrictor. Will attack using its mouth needle, and produce another 4 Elegancies when it kills a living creature roughly its own size by feeding. When under stress (when hurt, on fire, starved, etc) it will shrivel into a condensed version of itself the length of a forearm, which is extremely hard and durable. It will stay in this form until left alone. It floats through the air in a smooth wave-like pattern.

2 - The Melanogast:

An anthropomorphic fly in a dusty morning suit. It will eat mould off of rotting fruit, and is generally harmless and rather polite. It will be performing menial tasks in whatever room it is encountered in.

3 - Sugary Maike:

A woman called Maike made out of an odd, blubbery substance that smells like bread yeast. Her body contains tiny rings of braided fiber that accumulate the longer she exists. She will continuously produce new, toddler-sized Maikes that start anew with their ring accumulation and grow into adult Maikes. At a certain treshold, the rings become too much and the old Maike sags into a heap of blubber, vaguely retaining her bodily consistency. If you touch the rings, or an old Maike containing many of them, they transfer to your body and age you a year per second of rings sucked into you. The Room you encounter Maike in is already mostly covered in old Maikes, and overcrowded with young Maikes trying to get out.
The lifespan of a Maike is about ten minutes, during which she produces a Maike per minute.

4 - The Selection Shadow:

A shadow that is cast in the shape of a random animal, and moves along the room. When it covers you, roll a new mutation and age 10 years every turn it is on you. You cannot pass this mutation on to any offspring. Children and teenagers are not affected by the Shadow. The shadow is quick, but it can be outrun or kept at bay with light sources. It will actively chase you.

5 - The Disposable Body:

A dead man with an egg in his mouth. This egg is a chicken's egg that, when someone touches it, breaks and curses them to slowly form an egg in their body that will use up all their energy and nutrients. When complete the curse causes the victim to regurgitate the egg and die, ending in the same position as the found corpse.

6 - The Elephant Molar:

A large set of dentures made out of the teeth of an elephant, which will attack and chew on any person that it can reach, hopping around the room. It cannot be destroyed or damaged, but it can be detained, trapped, or otherwise prevented from attacking. However, it will try to chew through anything that imprisons it/prevents it from attacking people. The only way the Elephant Molar can die is when its teeth are all ground down from chewing. How long it will take it to reach this point is anyone's guess.

Art by Mike Mignola

Every non-special Room has a 1 in 6 chance to contain a random Treasure. Any Treasures not encountered during the exploration of the Sempervivarium are found in the Frozen Room.

1 - The Book Between:

Professor Vlinderkaai has published three books on the phenomenon of age, however, they are not what you would call complete. Out of fear of rejection and ridicule by his colleagues, Vlinderkaai had left his most outlandish findings, wildest theories, and plans to undo ageing through occult and supernatural means out of those books. However, he has collected them in an unpublished fourth manuscript, called The Forever People: Undoing the Locks on the Clock of Life. Collectors, wizards, occultists, desperate ageing nobles and the University will all pay dearly for this manuscript.

2 - The Islands Expedition:

The records, findings and souvenirs of the first of professor Vlinderkaai's expeditions, to the Japanese Islands. This includes rare specimens of fruits and animals, pictures of Vlinderkaai visiting villages, and a wooden casket containing a desiccated ascetic monk's mummy, with a label noting her origin and the fact that she would have lived for more than two-hundred years.

3 - The Sleeper:

A core of antarctic ice, preserved in miracle glass. Inside you can just about see a tiny creature the size of a walnut, resembling a tardigrade. Labels on it estimate its age to be past the million year mark. You can see a single thin hole in the ice, the size of a needle, passing to the Sleeper's body. It's an anomaly in time, a being that should no longer exist, a crack in the clock of life. In your sleep it may speak to you in the language of the monsters before time, but it speaks so slowly that you would need years to hear it out. Its glass case is labeled "B. parachronus"

4 - The Littoral Expedition:

Items from the second expedition by professor Vlinderkaai, to the shores of Iceland. This seems to be the origin of Ming, the clam in the foyer. It includes many specimens of worms and molluscs, some rare and taking outlandish colourful shapes. Some of these animals produce highly lethal (and valuable) toxins. The notes here already make some mention of the ability of some animals to lower metabolism, body temperature, etc. to enter dormant states during which they do not seem to age.

5 - The Elixir:

A wooden box containing forty thin glass vials of clear liquid. Drinking one of them per day will repair the damage of about one year of age- not immediately, but through a process that becomes rather painful when many are taken at once: grey hairs fall out to be replaced, bones strengthen, joints un-damage, cartilage grows back, bad teeth fall out to be replaced with new ones, and so on. Roll a mutation for every 10 you've drunk in total. Drinking more than 5 within the same day will kill you.

The Elixir is accompanied by a bundle of literature on its ingredients, the process of its development, and its merits. However, Vlinderkaai notes that "it is a pale imitation of my desire, little more than a glorified monkey extract- its drawbacks increase with its functionality. More potent versions have killed all my subjects through metabolic shock. This damage reversal approach may be a blind avenue."

6 - The Last Expedition:

All material regarding Vlinderkaai's third and final expedition, to Antarctica. This includes a deed of ownership to his boat, the Philosopher, which is docked in the harbour, his polar exploration suit, various rare Antarctic specimens, and the records of the Sleeper's discovery.

Art by Claude Monet, 1861

Vlinderkaai's frozen, transformed body is accompanied by a final, neatly written note left on his desk. It reads:

"To whom it may concern, I hereby must declare that my research has been a gravely unfortunate success. After many attempts at producing tinctures and products that may give us the gift of eternal youth, and dissecting the phenomenology of the ageing body, I am met with the final answer that has been clear to me for a while, but that I was so far unwilling to accept. 

I could have expected such a truth early in my ventures, when I met the people of Okinawa, when I studied the dreams of the sleeping bears, or when I revived the worms from age-old ice, that greatest worm of which now roams my house in search of prey. Even when discovering the centuries-old molluscs of the Icelandic coasts it still eluded me, and it took my encounter with the Beorn parachronus for me to see the light be shed on the final principle that unifies all ageing theory:

To never age and live forever, it is necessary not to live at all, and rather to sleep in an endless hibernation shielded from the outside world: in other words, that is not dead which can, eternal, lie."