Saturday, August 27, 2022


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


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


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.


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.