A Set Piece for Paizo

It’s out! Pathfinder #24: The Final Wish, by Rob McCreary is finally out. Aside from simply adoring Paizo Publishing’s latest AP, the Legacy of Fire, this one has my Set Piece in it.

Legacy of Fire rocks: foulest beasts, endless sands, Arabian Nights and Sinbad flavor, desert damsels – more distressing than in distress – what’s not to love? Imagine my excitement when, a while back, I won an internal contest to see who would write the final Set Piece in the AP. The publisher let me figure out what’s inside a genie bottle, and why genie bottles exist at all. Fun!

Then I learned this would be the last Set Piece Paizo published in their APs. Not so fun. Also a bit of responsibility – not that I wasn’t still excited!

However, it is starting to look like a pattern. First Nick Logue and I write the last adventure Dungeon magazine ever acquired, and then they canceled the magazine. Now I write a Set Piece for Legacy of Fire, and they cancel the Set Pieces. The good news: clearly, my curse is weakening – they didn’t cancel the AP!

OK. It was the final volume. But still!

Seriously, Legacy of Fire is tremendous. Gorgeous books, great writing. More D&D fun is tough to come by, and I’m proud to add a small bit to it.

As a contributing author I can’t, in fairness, write a Rudis Review on this one, but I can recommend it. Pathfinder #24: The Final Wish – Lou recommends!


The Rudis Review: Sneak Peek at White Wolf's Geist: The Sin Eaters

This is hot. I mean really hot. Hot like a Mike Carey novel, which is funny because when I received Geist: The Sin-Eaters to review, I had just put down Carey's The Devil You Know to get back to work. Only to feel like I'd walked right back into the novel as I read this game! I'm a big Mike Carey fan, so this is high praise.

In Geist: The Sin-Eaters, White Wolf’s forthcoming addition to their award-winning World of Darkness setting, you play people with near-death experiences, who return from dipping a toe into the wading pool of death, ridden by a potent and nasty spiritual entity called a Geist. Ridden is an understatement: this is no run-of-the-mill demonic possession game. You return from death in cahoots, having cut a deal called “The Bargain” or “The Event” in-game. Your dying human swapped escaping death for hosting - for becoming - an aspect of death itself. It’s an age old story: the hungriest for life do a deal with the devil at the crossroads, forge a pact to escape death. Old it may be, but in the hands of the White Wolf writers the trope turns into pure RPG genius, loaded with dark, disturbing, creepy fun.

In a hospital ward, a man hisses his last breaths through a machine that ticks and bleeps at regular intervals. The cancer has practically liquefied his organs, but he fights for every single breath. He’s not done living yet.

– Geist: The Sin-Eaters

Players ridden by a Geist – the Bound as they sometimes refer to themselves – do not merely harbor a ghost in their souls. They have entwined the Geist into their souls, inextricably. It becomes part of their souls, and a Geist is no mere ghost.

As you would expect from White Wolf, Geist is internally consistent with the WoD’s revealed cosmology. It builds on their setting's conception of ghosts as having anchors – a thing undone, a loved one to watch over – keeping them tied to the world of the living and out of the Underworld. Snap the anchors and bye-bye ghost. A Geist, on the other hand, has managed to replace its anchors to the human world – parts of its soul, really – with archetypical aspects of death. The Geist now anchors to the world of the living, not through human emotions of longing or desires for revenge against an enemy, but through universal aspects of death, aspects which may include the archetype of longing or of a thirst for revenge.

The Geist has ceased to be the ghost of Bob Smith, cruelly murdered by his own mistreated dog; instead, it has become the Geist that was once Bob Smith, but is now (mostly) the pure essence of a self-hatred so intense it brutalizes itself by torturing what it genuinely loves. While a remnant of the man Bob Smith floats inside and likely suffers, the Geist, in this example, is not a mere ghost, so plagued by self-hatred it does violence to others in order to hurt itself. The Geist is self-hatred catalyzed to violence. The very essence of it. And all the Bound have asked such things to come inside and blend with their souls, permanently, in exchange for escaping death. This is some wild metaphysical shit!

Here’s the thing: the Geist, an amalgam of human personality remnants and an archetypical facet of that human's own death, has an agenda. It has blind needs. It is a blind need. And it whispers to its host, making demands.

A vast, black shadow of a man is clad in the blood-soaked colors of the street gang he once ran with. His teeth are spent shell casings, his eyes two perfectly symmetrical bullet holes. He smells of cordite and smoke, and he speaks with a voice like cracking gunfire.

A grinning skeleton in a purple tuxedo dances a lewd jig. His cane is smooth, polished black wood, held like a phallus between his legs. He whispers in your ear that tonight is the night to party, to drink and snort and smoke and fuck until your body gives out. He whispers the same exhortation every single night.

Geist: The Sin-Eaters

Here's another thing: Geists grant power to their hosts.

But how does such a game play? In Geist, the Bound form krewes – typically something like a secret society crossed with a biker gang, though it could be a krewe of local housewives if you like – groups of the Bound with like philosophies pursuing like goals. Want a game that feels like the TV show Supernatural? Run a krewe that hunts down and evicts ghosts. This is a mission that would make the players Sin-Eaters. Heroes, if you will.

Personally, I’m intrigued by other possibilities: what if I want to belong to a krewe that enslaves ghosts? What if my krewe is totally immoral and uses our supernatural connection to the Underworld, not as a reason for plumbing the depths of the mystery in life and death – but for the Benjamins? What if just such a self-serving krewe is stirring up dark, metaphysical trouble way above their pay grade and my krewe needs to put a stop to it?

As one would expect in a brilliant RPG, the possibilities are endless.

Now I admit, the word ‘krewe’ made me cringe when I first read it. Too much like ‘kewl’ but in a short while I lost that first impression. Particularly as White Wolf has crafted a wild, life-loving, New Orleans jazz of a Dios de los Muertos cultural mélange into which modern Sin-Eaters delve. They also create game mechanics whereby the color of your occult practices matters not -you have a Geist within, after all - freeing gamers to invent any style of Sin-Eater they desire to play.

Geists also last longer than their hosts and some Geists are famous. Other Sin-Eaters will say, “He’s carrying the Pale Man” or “She’s holding the Burning Woman” and grant respect or fear accordingly. This creates the RP opportunity for legendary figures, BBEGs and heroes, for players to gain respect or become feared in the local supernatural community.

With krewes, a culture - that reveres, for example the Horsemen of the Apocalypse as patron saints of the different facets of death, love it! – factions and societies, personal legends, mechanics that bear any flavor, and all powered by the Geists inside, White Wolf has given us a viable power group to slot into any World of Darkness campaign.

Original, creepy, disturbing and focused on the most important theme in life – death. Don’t miss this book. It’s an awesome addition or even entry point into White Wolf’s World of Darkness. I predict awards for Geist: The Sin-Eaters in the future!

Want to learn more about Geist: The Sin-Eaters? Read on...

Drop by White Wolf Publishing today!


Blast from my AE Past

Recently, a thread over at Paizo drew me in to post. On true names and a cool attempt to construct a true name wielding class for a home brew, it reminded me of my very first (semi-professional) RPG writing. Alack and alas, when I tried to find my true name pieces on the cool fan site which had accepted them -- gone. Nada.

Embarrassing, because I tried to contribute to the discussion and fell on my face. Bleh.

So here they are again for the folks in the true namer thread:
What's in a Name - Part I
What's in a Name - Part II


Bloody Fix: Play Experience and Errata

Hey ho, all.

Feel free to read on, of course, but I wanted to point out that this blog post will most benefit those who own or are considering a copy of Rone Barton's and my adventure The Bloody Fix.

At the recent Paizocon, over which I'm just about blogged out, I enjoyed a fabulous opportunity. I ran my own (and Rone's) adventure, The Bloody Fix, for a group who'd never seen it before.

This is a special sort of experience for an adventure writer. Writing is its own reward, but an RPG is more than just the words on the page, the fantastical and mechanical creations, the crunch and the fluff. RPGs are incomplete without the play experience, which is itself part improv theater. To run your creation for others results in an immediate gratification not often available to writers, the kind traditional actors experience on the stage, but even then -- not quite

My opportunity ran 9 hours. I expected 12, but this party pulled off the adventure in 9. They chose all the unobvious clues, walked an almost utterly unexpected clue-path, triangulated the BBEG as he/she/it tried to scare them off, then confronted and beareded her/him/it in his/her/its lair. They also did so in a unique way that amplified their victory. A fantastic experience and fun all around.

That said, I learned a few things that escaped our original playtest, and I'd like to share. So here 'tis, my points of shame:
1. In the Zheeld and Zharnol encounter, add a minimum of 3 more monks of the same type as backup.

2. All the skill checks in the adventure? Reduce them by 5. That's right. All of them. They are set against the perfect min/max character, not for the average adventurer.

3. Consider adding in that Galwatty doesn’t know who his fight club opponent is, just that the first name is Opie. This turns the Opie Hardbar encounter into a two-part investigation (find last name first, then locate Opie) and reducing the chance PCs always visit Opie first.

4. Some of the insults in the insult match encounter are published PG-13. In our original write-up they were a bit...stronger. I've added them below.


Opie’s Insults
1. “When was the accident?” (A party member then naturally asks what accident he refers to.) Your mother must have kept rocks and glass in her snatch.
2. “Speaking of your mother, what’s it like getting bopped in the head with horse cock and sailor fists every day for nine months?”
9. “Who knew a pile of donkey shit could walk and talk? Any way you can stop the stink?”

Opie’s Information
About fighting Galwatty: “Troops went wild when Galwatty was pitted against me. They want to bring me down because I’ve won against all three Korty scumbags, and two of those Talquars whimpered and died at my feet. I am the storm made flesh! They say Galwatty’s a top-notch fighter, and I almost doubted myself when the ehrenrood arrived, but after his demotion? No fight in his eyes. Demoralized souls make lousy fighters. That’s it. The game is already won. Can you believe he’s the favorite in this match? Whatever. For once, I can bet on myself and score some real coin. I’m going to beat his mouth so hard he’ll shit teeth like baby corn.”