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Author Topic: [TWoN] About Pere-di-fey  (Read 16333 times)
Paolo D.
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« on: April 05, 2011, 08:23:46 AM »

Hi guys,

these days I'm playing as SG in a small TWoN campaign, settled in the sea between Ammeni and Pere-di-fey. We are REALLY enjoing this "culture intersection" and the dynamic tension between motifs like freedom, anarchy (the pirate way), power and slavery (the Ammeni way).

Since now it's all going well, but I read in the WoN manual that this part of the crunch (Pere-di-fey) wasn't tested at the time of the publication, so I'm here to ask if there's anything "new" about it, maybe some issues before playtesting or some errata. Again, since now we're not experiencing any issues with the crunch, but I wanted to ask whatsoever ;-)

Thanks!
Paolo
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #1 on: April 05, 2011, 11:54:00 AM »

Nice to hear that this is seeing play. I still haven't used that stuff myself to any great degree, so it's interesting to hear that you aren't experiencing difficulties. I would not be surprised if that crazy alien pools mechanic proved more trouble than joy in practice, but if it's working as intended, then that's just great.

As the text mentions, I got Pere-di-Fey originally from Josh's sketch here - if you haven't checked that out, by all means do; it should prove educational for expanding and explaining some of the bits there. Josh's vision is perhaps a bit more expansive than mine in the book, more like its own Caribbean minisetting with several towns and so on. All good as far as I'm concerned, and personally I imagine Josh's version as one possible future for the somewhat more primitive situation depicted in the book.

It occurs to me that a Story Guide will find it pretty easy to seesaw between the Ammeni and outlaw points of view in a campaign like that simply by choosing whose attrocities to depict. In fact, having played quite a few games like that, I suspect that the interesting thing will ultimately be to see the positive facets of both political and cultural systems: it's easy to condemn pirates for mindless bloodletting and slavers for inhuman economic calculus, but surely both sides of that conflict also have some human virtue.
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Heikki Hallamaa
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« Reply #2 on: April 05, 2011, 01:04:49 PM »

As far as errata goes, the Secret of Isle Fog has had it's cost copy-pasted from the previous Secret of Isle Speak by mistake.
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Paolo D.
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Posts: 78


« Reply #3 on: April 06, 2011, 05:19:21 AM »

Thanks for the replies and for the link, that's interesting; for the records, our characters haven't acquired any symbionts yet, so we still don't know if it works without trouble or not. We are on the way for it however; at least a character is playing his "initiation" to become a land-speaker.

By the way: he's a ratkin albino, captain of a ratkin pirate ship of former Ammeni slaves. Basically, he and his litter choose to infest a ship instead of a dungeon. We are quite excited of this character concept, by the way ;-)
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #4 on: April 06, 2011, 06:46:16 AM »

I like that concept - I've had ratkin sailors myself in games, and they work nicely for it. Easy to get comedy out of their antics and all that. I imagine that they'll have their problems as sailors, I'm sure it's interesting to figure out how they row a galley and do other stuff humans are better suited for.

Looking at those symbiont rules, I have a distinct suspicion that the "pay one Pool per scene" upkeep for the more advanced symbionts is overpriced; not in a power-balancing sense, but in the sense that it'll become a chore to keep feeding your symbiont constantly. I'd have to try it to know for sure. If it becomes an issue, one might try one Pool at the beginning of each session and one Pool after each refresh scene (any refresh), instead. Those more advanced symbionts are supposed to be very powerful in what they do, and I'm a bit uncertain about how to cost such Secrets so that they're still fun to play with.

Also, Heikki's right about the errata to the Secret of Isle Fog. The cost is probably pretty good, although it could be just 2 Pool instead of 3, I suppose. Also, looking at it, I'm not entirely satisfied that I didn't write down a suggestion for what use this fog-letting ability might be for smaller islets; the text implies that a smaller island cannot give out enough fog for it to matter for concealment at sea, which is not quite as elegant as one could hope for. I suppose one could expand this by postulating some further foggy developments - maybe you could feed your island with special fruits to get hallucinogenic fog out of it or something similarly cute. I guess it's not a problem as long as the group realizes that this sort of innovation in play is an option.
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Paolo D.
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Posts: 78


« Reply #5 on: April 08, 2011, 03:32:28 AM »

Ok, I'll keep in mind that thing about symbiont's ichor cost and I'll tell you if we experience any issues.

I'd like to ask some suggestions about our pirate ratkin and his future as a priest of the Halatu, crunchly wise.

As I mentioned, he's an albino. His "weirdness" (with the Secret of albino weird) is to (ta-daaaaa) summon sea creatures from the water (and to summon fucking sea monsters too!) as the Secret of Summon on the Solar System 2008.
We really like this thing: he's a beastkin, and he's linked to the moon, so, as the moon controls the sea with the tide, he controls sea creatures from the water. And it's really cool for a pirate captain too, "Hey dudes, he's the guy who can summon the kraken! Yaaaarrrr!!!".

Now, that's my question: he's taking tutorage from a kairakau priest, and sooner or later (probably) he will take some crunch from the feyan "religion", like the "Secret of Symbiosis", the "Secret of Isle speak", or a Land-speaking based "Secret of prophecy".
But he already has a link with the natural world, because he (1) is a beastkin, he IS the natural world in a measure, and (2) he can summon sea creatures, so he's linked to sea creatures in a way very similar to the kairakau priests.

I'd like to propose to the player some "transitional" crunch between his beastkin spiritual aspect (the albino weird - as for the manual, he rolls Bestiality for it) and the Halatu powers.

Maybe to retrain Bestiality under Istinct or Reason, and to use it instead of Land-speech? Or to synegize it with Land-speech or Use symbionts?
Have you got any suggestion about how to "move" this spiritual aspect of the character between the ratkin and the feyan crunch?
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #6 on: April 08, 2011, 07:21:35 AM »

That's a very good line of thinking, Story Guiding -wise; I like where you're going. I'll ponder a bit on the fluff first, if you don't mind:

One point to consider is that becoming a host for symbionts and becoming a Landspeaker are just a slight bit lateral developments socially; the way I envision it, there probably are Landspeakers who are totally ga-ga for symbiosis and preach ultimate unity between biospheres, but then there are also moderates who make a point of understanding and working with the Halatu without becoming one with them. Just to keep in mind that becoming a spiritual authority of the Kairakau is not exactly the same as becoming a Talalag-host; the Kairakau recognize that spirit is internal, not merely superficial, and that the Landspeakers are first and foremost defenders and speakers for the people, not necessarily the islands themselves. This is a central conflict: in a religion that focuses on bioethics and ecological balance in an environment on the brink of over-exploitation, are the priests there for the people or the biosphere?

(Note that Use Symbiont (V) is not really a default priestly Ability for the Kairakau, while Ecology (R) and Land-Speech (I) are; their responsibilities range from deciding how much and what to farm to determining allowed hunting seasons to setting boundaries for where the different ecologies are allowed to reign to outright metering people's right to have children so as to prevent overpopulation; lots of things that are not directly about transformation into a Talalag-host.)

The pirate society, on the other hand, views things differently: they're usually materialistic, impatient and straightforward in the way abused people tend to be. To be a legendary captain or even a pirate king is to be strong, loyal and unscrupulous. There are certainly crews that don't brook with native things like the Talalag, but the majority will feel supernatural awe for a powerful captain who becomes an exotic sea-god by taming the powers of the mysterious Halatu. Taking on powerful symbionts is like tattooing yourself, it's about commitment to a way of life and proof of feats, which makes it useful for a pirate. The fearsome pirate figures of legend near always are hosts of some sort, as the Talalag are signs of strength, loyalty and unscrupulous willingness to do icky things to achieve and hold a position of authority. I imagine that the Landspeakers are averse to spreading the knowledge of how to use the Talalag nilly-willy, so among the expatriate pirate community knowledge of the necessary Abilities is rare and respected and well-protected; a navigator might carefully safeguard his knowledge of which moss-like sea urchins you need to eat to develop the Neural Symbiont, for example, simply because this special knowledge secures his position.

I agree with the idea that ratkin have a strong connection to the natural world, but this does not automatically make them harmonious regarding the Halatu. There are different ways for Story Guides to play the details, but the way I see it, the Halatu and their ichor-based biology are obviously (to us as audience) extra-terrestrial in origin, and neither biologically nor theologically really part of the natural cycle of this world of Near. (One might consider the refusal of the standard Pools to be a mechanical symbol of this: the Halatu are fundamentally different in construction from Near-based life.) I'm not saying that this has to be the case in your game, but it's an angle to develop: are the Halatu "of the Moon" the way ratkin are, perhaps, or are they merely an exotic part of the old world order, or are they truly alien in a way that really makes the the Landspeaker attempts at reconciling the biospheres an attempt at exobiology?

Now, the position of a ratkin litter or even a horde in this environment is very, very interesting. It occurs to me that ratkin by nature are antithetical to Kairakau values of moderation and respect for the environment; they breed, they consume, and it might not be a simple task to teach them about population control; how will they get along with the islanders? I could well see treating the introduction of a ratkin horde on the islands the same way Australian ecology has sufferent from introduction of Eurasian species: after initial difficulties in figuring out what is edible the ratkin will find it easy to hunt, fish and steal what they need, and as their available living space expands greatly from the ship-board environs, there'll soon be breakouts as parts of the population move out to live on this island or that in the Pere-di-Fey archipelago. The ratkin breed quickly, and unless the native Halatu ecology has some natural pressures equal to the task, the ratkin might completely overwhelm and crash the fragile ecology of the islands within mere couple of decades. This is a direct theological problem for the Landspeakers, I can imagine; their life's work is to prevent humans from causing just the same with their overcultivation and efficient fishing endeavours, and humans at least respect and understand the Landspeakers, and they tend to obey laws and traditions rather more than the anarchic ratkin.

The position of ratkin in the pirate society might be equally interesting. This is not to everybody's tastes, but the way I play it, the people of Near tend to be pretty dismissive of ratkin in positions of authority; they don't quite take the squeking rodent-men seriously, but rather patronize them in ways reminiscent of colonial attitudes. (You might consider this to be a direct refutation on my part of the way D&D fantasy seems to ignore racial issues.) How will other pirate crews take to a shipful of what they might at best consider shipboard pets? How facile are the ratkin in fulfilling pirate tasks - do they scrape by despite their smaller size and such, or do they develop new ratkin ways of achieving the same goals human pirates achieve? Will the ratkin captain be accorded with the social honors due to a blooded pirate crew; will he get to sit at the captain's table in the pirate pension, or will he be humiliated? Will he find friends, will a human be willing to serve on the same crew?

Anyway, lots of interesting material in there to play with, I like. Your actual question is also well-considered: I find it an interesting question indeed as to whether there might be a way to reconsile the beastkin nature to the Feyan biotechnology/magic. The Albino Weird is rather interesting here, too; it's a mysterious power that is not really explained on any but poetic level. Let's see...

What is the true nature of the albino's control over sea creatures? Do I understand correctly that it's not specified as part of some particular magical system of Near, but rather it's just something you cooked up to match the character concept? If so, then it's a mysterious and idiosyncratic power - by no means illegal for the Albino Weird, but we might consider that the power is likely an extension of the ratkin natural telepathy in this case. As the description of the Albino Weird hints, the Weird itself is merely an unnatural harmony with magical forces that manifests as mastery of a "culturally appropriate" magic. I can totally imagine that a ratkin for whom Three-Corner magic, say, is not culturally appropriate, might start resonating with some more primal, unnamed magic connected to his own being as a natural telepath and beastkin. Thus it seems likely to me that if the Weird ability to control sea creatures doesn't seem to require the external props used by known and familiar magical systems (no Ammeni dances, Three-Corner hocum, witchcraft or anything), then it's a genuinely natural ability and not just an instinctively mastered magical technique from a man-made theology, if you grog the distinction.

A pretty natural alternative is that the ratkin is actually tapping into the unseen currents of the Halatu biosphere, the ones that carry the Halatu telepathy and allow humans to use Land-Speech to attract the attention of the islands they live on. I suppose this could have happened even before the albino came to Pere-di-Fey due to a chance encounter long before - a passing rogue islet grazed near the coast of his place of birth on the night he was born, for example. (You'll note that although I like to have a cohesive fiction, fun is more important; if it's fun to decide that the ratkin's own magic is actually revealed to be Kairakau magic, then ride on.) If this were the case, though, then one might question why the Weird seems to influence "natural", non-Halatu sealife, which normally is just as out of sync with the Halatu as anything in this world. One might also wonder why the Weirded ratkin doesn't seem to need ichor or symbionts to achieve this control. There are pleasing answers to these sorts of questions if exploring the issue interests, and if the notion of explaining the Weird further pleases the group.

The above question of the Weird interests me in this situation, as it might offer a stepping-stone in developing the character's own, unique approach to ratkin Landspeech. For example, if the character's current magic is genuinely separate and different from the nature of the Halatu, then there might not be any synergies, or the synergies might have to be developed via exciting events in play. On the other hand, if the character is already revealed to have a mysterious, personal connection to the Kairakau theology, then synergic material would be easier to provide. The general issue of what the Halatu are and what the beastkin are is also on the table here, and this is totally the sort of material I would expect the Story Guide to hold the backstory for: the SG decides for the purposes of this particular campaign that the Halatu are actually alien, unintelligent biotech machines stranded in this world in the prehistorical war between Dreadnough Agarim and the Skai-Faiö Comet Force, and now they're all crossing the sea to get back to their launchpad (on the south pole) that will take them to the Moon to join the Skyfire there. Totally ridiculous example, but this theology/history would also imply that the beastkin and Halatu are "of one nature" in that they're booth Moonkin, and therefore it's totally reasonable to provide some snappy bridges between these two identities/crunch-sets for any character willing to look hard enough.

Considering the mechanics, the issue is much more straightforward. For example, I wouldn't see any particular problem in a Secret like this:

Mindspeech Symbiont
This rare symbiont normally attaches to a large variety of Halatu islet, the sort that swims perpetually in darkness, deep enough that sun does not reach it and few people know of them. The symbiont looks like a spongy mold that dies quickly when brought to sunlight. It just so happens (see the above discussion of theology/history/backstory) that when injected to ratkin bloodstream, the symbiont collects on the brainstem and causes the ratkin Litter-Bond (I) to harmonize with Land-Speech (I); the ratkin with this symbiont can use the Secret of Mind-Speech to contact the Halatu, effectively replacing the Land-Speech (I) Ability for the purposes of interacting with Halatu and Talalag. (Land-Speech (I) has some minor knowledge functions in addition to these tasks, but those can probably be ignored or covered with Ecology (R).) The symbiont works for humans with the ratkin toxoplasm as well; other beastkin and people with a Neural Symbiont obtain the ability to use Land-Speech (I) in lieu of Litter-Bond (I), instead, should they try it out and somehow gain the necessary practice in ratkin-style telepathy. The symbiont can use Yellow ichor to pay for ratkin mindspeech, and it can handle at most its size in Pool points per scene (either Yellow or whatever ratkins use in particular mindspeech applications). Cost: As per the Secret of Bond-Speech etc.

That's a bit to the complex side as I tried to write out the implications - let me know if it's not clear. The idea is to provide an interesting opt-in for the player, one that allows him to basically unify ratkin telepathy with Land-Speech. There's a bit of an adventure in getting hold of the symbiont, and I wrote it to be relatively ambivalent about the above issues of backstory - perhaps that symbiont just happens by coincidence to work like that even if there is no theological connection between the Halatu and beastkin, or perhaps it works like that because there is such a connection. Maybe a wise old Landspeaker will tell the ratkin of this opportunity, or maybe he fails as a Landspeaker due to his ratkin nature, and then some shady drunk pirate offers to sell him some of this stuff or a map to it or whatever - lots of possibilities. I'd sort of like to drive the character to inject himself with unknown substances out of desperation, but that's probably just because those Pere-di-Fey pirates in my head all look like cyberpunk freaks.

Also, following the line of thought that the character's Weird is not particularly connected to the Halatu, I find it probable that the original Ability that "should" be used by the Secret in question is simply Litter-Bond (I), the natural ratkin telepathic Ability; perhaps it's something that branches off the Secret of Mind-Speech as an even more extensive variation. I assume that you're costing the Weird correctly by putting a 1-Reason surcharge on top of the summoning Secret's cost, so that there'll be a slight benefit to learning the Secret "for real" at some point, if the player is interested. (I wrote the Albino Weird with the assumption that a player might or might not want to develop the character's facility with his naturally occurring magical powers; this is why instead of writing a native Weird-magic I made the Weird a sort of instinctive backdoor into other magics. This is why any Weird magic will presumably have a real magical Secret behind it, implicit or explicit.) In fact, this is about how I might write something of the sort you described:

Secret of Animal-Speech
A ratkin with particularly strong mind-speech can expand its use to communicating with non-rodent animals. Any animal without higher cognitive functions (specifically metacognition, although the ratkin himself probably won't think in these terms) that shares vertebrate evolutionary antecedents with the ratkin himself (basically, any Near-based lifeform with a spine) is eligible, although the character has to have had extensive interactions with the specific sort of animal for his abilities to adapt. In addition to using normal mindspeech functions (rule-speech, etc.) the character can use the SS-style Secret of Summoning with his Litter-Bond (I) Ability to entice familiar sorts of animals in appropriate terrain. Requirement: Secret of Mind-Speech Cost: As per the various mindspeech Secrets and the Secret of Summoning

As you can see, the specific cosmology of individual Secrets can be radically different depending on how you explain the superficially similar abilities. I understand that your explanation for why this particular ratkin can control sea creatures is more mythical in nature, referencing the beastkin connection to the Moon and Moon's connection to the sea, while I would probably approach the topic from the direction of ratkin natural telepathy (which stylistically seems to involve a lot of pseudo-science for some reason).

Hmm... there's some thoughts there to begin with, let me know if there's anything useful there. The situation you describe could be handled in a lot of different ways depending on the SG's pleasure - you should definitely look for a direction that makes sense to you and seems interesting. We could look into other ways of synergizing beastkin and Landspeech, too, if you're still interested after slogging through the above.
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Paolo D.
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« Reply #7 on: April 10, 2011, 06:35:36 AM »

Thanks for your extensive, very interesting reply. I'll probably link this thread on gentechegioca in the end, it's a very interesting explaination of the feyan culture. I must confess that, from the book, I didn't realize that the symbionts are supposed to be SO "alien" in a more or less metaphorical sense, nor did I realize the ambiguous stance of Kairakau priests about symbionts.
Still, this makes a lot more sense to me in my effort to search for a common point between ratkins and feyan biology/religion, so again thanks!

So: I have some ideas. First of all I'd like to give you some more infos about our campaign, just to know our background.
This will be a small campaign. We played three sessions and we will be able to play four, maybe five more. So we want to "keep it tight", with one clear focal point, and without adding more issues to the game situation (we should have enough with our piracy/slavery/freedom thematical kernel and some satellite things we already have on the table - the ratkin's "invasion" issue on Pere-di-fey would be very interesting to play, but probably we can't afford it right now).

Our "material" focal point is the "arcane fog", a mysterious place in the sea between Pere-di-fey and Ammeni, which appears once every couple hundreds (or thousands) of years and that is like some kind of fantasy Bermuda triangle: nobody knows what's in the inside, and ships just get lost in it and never come back (but: see below).

We have three characters:
Moonrat, the one I explained you above here.

Cador De Desmaris, an Ammeni lord with lots and lots of slaves, who wants to extend his influence in the sea between the Ammeni coast and Pere-di-fey, formerly master of Moonrat and his litter (this character concept is explicitely inspired from the Quinto Batiato of the serial Spartacus: Blood and Sand - we just love it).

And, last, Sidonie, a feyane female captain who went in the Arcane Fog on order of her pirate league two hundreds years ago, and just came out, without getting older and with no memory of what happens in here (but: she has a Secret of Amnesy, kinda like a Secret of Past plus a piece of Secret of Prophecy, to call for some flashback and play them. She's already recovering from this amnesy, piece after piece). By the way, her ship is full with stuff from inside the fog, random objects here and there, and she don't know anything about these things (so she has a variant of the Secret of Scavenging Grounds: she can took almost anything out of her ship know).
(I already have some solid ideas about where to go with this mysterious past, but I don't want to write it here because I'm linking this thread to the rest of my group and I don't want to spoil the surprise ;-)


The stories of our characters are all gathering around the Arcane Fogs. Cador must go there on order of his House, because they think that inside there's the formula for alchemical immortality (and of course he's playing along with them, because this is his chance to improve his social and political influence among his House). Moonrat wants to go there to search for the lost treasures of the ships that were lost in there. And Sidonie, obviously, definitely wants to know what happened there to her, to her ship and to her crew (because some of her sailors are missing).

On the mithycal/hystorical level:

it's obvious to us as audience that Pere-di-fey and the Arcane Fogs have something in common (the fog, first of all). The last session, Cador found an ancient myth about it among the poetry knowledge of his Zaru slaves: when the Skyfire passed through the sky on the ocean, it lost some pieces. One hit the archipelago of Pere-di-fey, and since then it started moving on the sea. But one fell in the middle of the ocean, and there started the Arcane Fog, a place of change, where reality breaks and things exists just because you think of them. (Again, I already have ideas about where to go with it and probably you are already noticing at what crunch landscape I'm pointing with this thing ;-) but again, spoiler alert, so...).

...So:

our mythical backstory is already very stabilized with a reference to the Moon and the Skyfire, especially in relation with the Albino Weird of Moonrat. We are all very excited about it, so I think that this is gonna be our solid starting point.

I still don't know what Andrea (Moonrat's player) thinks is better for his character's origins in terms of color. I know that exstablishing this sort of backstory about Skyfire mythos is my duty as a SG, but on the other side I don't wan't to mess with his character's origins in a way that he (or the rest of the group) thinks is unappropriate for this character concept (I already have had myself many bad experiences as a player in other rpgs with GMs messing with a character's background in a way that destroys a character concept as perceived by the group - we all like surprises, but we don't like when a GM takes our creative input and just piss on it). Maybe I'm just a paranoid, but that's it.

But:

my propose will be to consider Talalag, Halatu and Ratkins as "of the Moon", as creatures (?) having the same origin. here's why:

Ratkins have a very weird telepathic ability that is very symbiont-like, and... Damn it, the toxoplasm! It's a parassite, who infects humans and enables them to develop this empathic/telepathic link... And Talalags ARE parassites, and they DO provide telepathic abilities...
So, maybe ratkins aren't stupid rat-humans, but highly evolved rats infected by very well adapted symbionts. And ratkins breed and multiply with haste, so evolution (in this hypothesis) could have had plenty of time to make skyfire symbionts so well adapted to Near's biology to just blend with the physionomy and the nature of these creatures. This fits just wonderful with the toxoplasm too - they can just be symbionts very accustomed to Near's biology (and this should be why they haven't any Ichor).
And so, ratkins are nothing more than (in this hypothesis, again) a very well blended and evolved "rat (from Near) + symbiont (from the Skyfire/Moon)" pair.

I think that I'll propose this tomorrow night to the rest of the group, along with this pair of Secrets:
 
Secret of the awakened Rat-symbiont
Requisited: being a Ratkin, or having the Secret of the Toxoplasm.
The Ratkin (or the infected human), member of (or infected by) a race of creatures obtained by the
adaptament of the Moon's symbionts to Near's biology, has awaken his original state of being. He gains Yellow
Ichor at 1 and Black Ichor at 0 (the most linked to the animal biology), as standard Pools, and he will be able to
increase them normally with the advancements (refreshment works normally, in the way the Secret of
Ichor refreshment describes but without additional costs). He can also develop spontaneously the powers of
symbionts based on these Ichors, but he will have to do it passing through the Secret of Quest for the most
extraordinary (generally the ones based on Black Ichor). Bestiality (V) is retrained under Yellow Ichor, and Litter-
bond (I) under Black Ichor (so he will be able to use them under both standard and ichor Pools, as for the Secret of
Retraining).

Secret of the mental Rat-symbiont (freely inspired by your own secret up here)
Requisite: Secret of Mind-speech, and Secret of the awakened Rat-symbiont.
The Ratkin (or the infected human) learned how to use his own special telepaty with the feyan biology. He can
use Litter-bond (I) instead of Land-speech (I) to communicate with the Halatu or the Talalag through his
secrets for Ratkin mental communication.
Cost: as per the secrets for Ratkin mental communication, but he can spend Black Ichor too for them.

Let me now what you thinks of this stuff, I'm very interested in going on with this discussion.

Best,
Paolo
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #8 on: April 10, 2011, 08:41:17 AM »

I like this discussion, your campaign seems really fun. It's interesting to see how others have interpreted the oft-mysterious words in WoN.

Thanks for your extensive, very interesting reply. I'll probably link this thread on gentechegioca in the end, it's a very interesting explaination of the feyan culture. I must confess that, from the book, I didn't realize that the symbionts are supposed to be SO "alien" in a more or less metaphorical sense, nor did I realize the ambiguous stance of Kairakau priests about symbionts.

To emphasize, especially for those reading along: what I wrote above are just my own impressions and ideas, there is no "supposed" here. I wrote that book intentionally to be quite open about things like what the Kairakau religion is like or whatnot. So I'd be the last person to say that you're misinterpreting the material. Josh probably had something quite different in mind when he first invented Pere-di-Fey, anyway.

Quote
This will be a small campaign. We played three sessions and we will be able to play four, maybe five more. So we want to "keep it tight", with one clear focal point, and without adding more issues to the game situation (we should have enough with our piracy/slavery/freedom thematical kernel and some satellite things we already have on the table - the ratkin's "invasion" issue on Pere-di-fey would be very interesting to play, but probably we can't afford it right now).

Our "material" focal point is the "arcane fog", a mysterious place in the sea between Pere-di-fey and Ammeni, which appears once every couple hundreds (or thousands) of years and that is like some kind of fantasy Bermuda triangle: nobody knows what's in the inside, and ships just get lost in it and never come back (but: see below).

I like this stuff - you're paying a lot of attention to focusing the campaign by being conscious of the focal points around which the campaign revolves, and that shows in how easy it is for you to cross and weave the concerns of the PCs.

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Cador De Desmaris, an Ammeni lord with lots and lots of slaves, who wants to extend his influence in the sea between the Ammeni coast and Pere-di-fey, formerly master of Moonrat and his litter (this character concept is explicitely inspired from the Quinto Batiato of the serial Spartacus: Blood and Sand - we just love it).

Quite nice. Were I SGing here, I'd draw attention to how and what Cador did with ratkins as slaves; in my own play the basic assumption has usually been that ratkins are too weak, rebellious and alien creatures to make much use of. Perhaps there is something interesting and unusual there, something the other lords of Ammeni don't do. Perhaps he has some alchemy that concerns ratkin exclusively, or he likes to abuse enslaved albino ratkin as magical weapons.

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And, last, Sidonie, a feyane female captain who went in the Arcane Fog on order of her pirate league two hundreds years ago, and just came out, without getting older and with no memory of what happens in here (but: she has a Secret of Amnesy, kinda like a Secret of Past plus a piece of Secret of Prophecy, to call for some flashback and play them. She's already recovering from this amnesy, piece after piece). By the way, her ship is full with stuff from inside the fog, random objects here and there, and she don't know anything about these things (so she has a variant of the Secret of Scavenging Grounds: she can took almost anything out of her ship know).

Love it, especially the mysterious spoils from the fog - lots of opportunity for the Story Guide to introduce weird equipment; I'd probably include one or more pieces from the Celestial Nine in there just as an in-joke. With these materials it seems that you're driving towards some sort of climax for the story that involves a brave journey back to the fogs. Very pirate-storyic, this notion of going back to go forward. The SG has a really fun task when answering the question of what's in the fog; I could see it as a time travel thing akin to the Green World, for example, or a Soft Place of dream shamanism, or an Akashic fold, a Qek underworld on earth - or maybe all of those are the same thing, or perhaps it's something alien and unknown from some other world. Heck, I'm the sort of asshole who might make it the Mists of Ravenloft just for the joke :D

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I still don't know what Andrea (Moonrat's player) thinks is better for his character's origins in terms of color. I know that exstablishing this sort of backstory about Skyfire mythos is my duty as a SG, but on the other side I don't wan't to mess with his character's origins in a way that he (or the rest of the group) thinks is unappropriate for this character concept (I already have had myself many bad experiences as a player in other rpgs with GMs messing with a character's background in a way that destroys a character concept as perceived by the group - we all like surprises, but we don't like when a GM takes our creative input and just piss on it). Maybe I'm just a paranoid, but that's it.

This juncture between character and setting can be tricky, that's true. The way I myself try to avoid disappointments of this sort as Story Guide is by advance preparation of the player: whenever I recognize a player who is culturally conditioned to develop and embellish a complex character backstory (this is a certain type of player, not all roleplayers do this), I make certain that the player understands where the lines of ownership ultimately go in this game; the player can have a backstory that aligns his character, but part of the SG's job is to push the character off-balance, and casting doubt on the character's personal identity is definitely in-bounds as a move in that regard. Thus the player shouldn't build up his interest in the game on the premise that his unique snowflake character is personally safe from uncertainty and crisis of faith; the Story Guide well might reveal in play that the character is actually the son of a god and his earliest memories are lies planted by an evil demiurge - the player will have to accept this sort of shit as something that belongs to the past and does not infirm his current control of his character, whose current nature is truly and fully under his own control no matter what might be in the backstory. Once we have this straight I don't usually have problems as long as I act in good faith.

Of course, the above is just my local play culture, where practices such as players pouring their creativity into out-of-game backstory development are a minority, so it's relatively easy to shake it up and negotiate on a per-game basis. The important point here is to find accord with the group, and if it's easier to go along with their possibly strong expectations about how the SG is not supposed to touch their characters in any bad places, then perhaps it's better to simply not do that: the Story Guide in TSoY has artistic freedom in how hard he hits, and it's certainly possible to play the game without playing hard-ball by simply staying away from the character's backstory: make the game be about something else that is wholly SG-owned if you doubt your ability to work with the player.

My happy experience about character backstories has incidentally been that the vast majority of players create these backstories with the healthy expectation that the GM will use that stuff in play. This was something of a revelation for me early in the '00s, as I started playing with more different people; so far my experience had been that players create backstories to reserve space the GM can't touch and to derive creative enjoyment out of an otherwise barren game by living in their character's past that was otherwise irrelevant for play. My more recent experience has been that even if players often don't have the vocabulary or the practice to say so without asking about it, almost all players who make up backstories for their characters actually enjoy it if the GM wants to use them. In this regard I find asking very fruitful: just ask the player whether he wants that piece of fiction he deviced to be "in play" or not, and often you'll find that the player will be delighted to have the GM use that stuff.

(Reading and playing Sorcerer is pretty illuminating in this regard, incidentally: that game actually relies on character backstory as exemplified in the character sheet bullseye as an integral building block of scenarios, but it is also rapidly fanatical about the GM's sole right and responsibility to run the NPCs and own the backstory. Players absolutely have to accept in that game that they have total control of what their characters are and what they want, but this control does not extend into making the character's self-image an objective truth: the GM is outright expected to problematize and show alternate viewpoints on the character's relationships and personal history.)

I'm rambling a bit because this is an interesting and difficult topic on which the SS metholodology doesn't really give an off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all answer. Were I you I'd probably ask Andrea what he thinks about the theoretical issue of the SG pulling the rug from under his character's self-image by making big reveals about his true nature. This is not an atypical development in fiction, we've all seen stories where a protagonist finds out that actually he's a replicant, not a human at all; if this is theoretically doable in your group without offending anybody's feelings of ownership towards their own character, then it's full steam ahead and don't mind the reefs. If the players are uncomfortable, on the other hand, then you'll need either more player control or a backstory that doesn't tie so very tightly into character identities. All sorts of stories can be made without directly challenging the viewpoint character's own self-image, after all.

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my propose will be to consider Talalag, Halatu and Ratkins as "of the Moon", as creatures (?) having the same origin. here's why:

Those are quite fine arguments - they convince me, at least. I haven't thought about it myself, but you're right that the ratkin telepathy and the existence of this strange ratkin toxoplasm all sort of point towards Halatu-like biological developments.

Do you know how I'd handle this stuff? I'd proffer the notion that the ratkin are a lost, separated Halatu-kin as an ideology and theory first, so as to force the players to struggle with the uncertainty it causes. (I'm contrasting here with the perhaps more obvious and traditional tack of providing inrefutable proof in a "reveal" scene.) Perhaps even introduce a second theory at cross-purposes, one that argues that the ratkin are not alien creatures of the Moon at all, but rather terrestrial, fundamentally kin to humanity. I could see some nicely dramatic choices on part of PC ratkin if they had to choose between two identities that also might have political implications. The crude Hollywood thing to do would be some sort of "join us and help us destroy humankind so the Moonlife can reign on this world", but it could be more subtle as well: if there is a Moongate in the Fog, for instance, will the litter that knows the truth about who and what they are want to leave this world for their "real" home, or will they choose to embrace their place in Near?

What I myself often do as Story Guide in these sorts of cosmological conundrums is that I intentionally leave the answers open and only provide theories and opportunities for garnering circumstantial evidence. This NPC here claims that your character is actually a particularly verbose Halatu, while this other NPC claims that you're an escaped laboratory animal from the Three-Corner Academy. To find out the truth you have to take heroic risks, or perhaps you will decide that ultimately it does not matter, in the final count you're yourself and the shadows of yesterday are merely shadows. The SG himself doesn't even need to know the truth as long as the character does not actually have leverage for climbing up to Mount Olympus to verify the truth for himself. Thinking about it, I must have played something like three separate campaigns where the nature of the ratkin as Moonfolk has been under examination, but in none of them I actually had an opinion on the matter as Story Guide: I just provided NPCs who had their own theologies about it, but the games never went so far as to provide the poor ratkin with conclusive proof of who or what they are.

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I think that I'll propose this tomorrow night to the rest of the group, along with this pair of Secrets:

Do let us know how it goes. As discussed above, I would myself do this stuff in play, as these sorts of cosmological doubts are the best things in the Story Guide's life. You know your group best, of course.

Hmm... I really would try to avoid outright asking the players whether it's OK with them to have the ratkin be alien beings. Were I a player, I'd feel that the SG is punting responsibility and revealing a nice bit of backstory the characters wouldn't have any way to know otherwise without going through an exciting sequence in play. I have to admit that there is no easy answer to this, except perhaps the notion that you can introduce this idea into play without making it an absolutely incontroversible truth right out. Perhaps you should just decide that the ratkin can be whatever they want to be, but that you have a door open if they want to take the step into Halatu-hood?

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Secret of the awakened Rat-symbiont

Quite nice. I know that I lob hand-granades when I play ball with my players, but the way I'd do this would be to add an extreme biological change to the ratkin as well when he awakens to his "true" nature: as the talalag organs within the mostly terrestrial ratkin body awaken, he sheds much of his fur and disgusting spikes and spores start developing on him where new sense organs and mysterious intakes for talalag biological functions emerge. Soft tunes and pig-like oinking sound from his gut when talalag symbionts draw near, and he feels a need to do something akin to rutting to anybody who possesses symbionts. A "bit" of body horror, and a concrete reminder that the Halatu are not nice and clean and they are not human. But then, neither are the ratkin.

In fact, continuing in the vein of suggesting wicked things: I would introduce this Secret into the game as some sort of alchemical option, perhaps something known to some Ammeni alchemists or some specific landspeaker who came to Pere-di-Fey from Maldor and knows of ratkin. The way to trigger this evolutionary reaction in ratkin could then be to have them imbibe some strange concoctions/symbionts that supposedly catalyze and accelerate the natural ratkin development. The trick here is that by making the catalyst external we leave a backdoor for existential doubt open: is this magic a true path to what a ratkin is, or is it a weird abomination? Are ratkin truly latent Halatu organisms, or is it the crazy Ammeni alchemist and his brew made of ground and fermented talalag-remains who is the true cause of this transformation? It would probably be more interesting to play with this material if the Halatu nature of ratkin was not affirmed as an absolutely incontroversial truth.

Obviously the above might not be exactly how you want to fuck with your players. A cleaner and easier take is definitely a possibility, and probably the right choice if you don't want to make this "monster within me" a centerpiece for your campaign. Maybe the true nature of the Halatu is actually pretty nice and aesthetically pleasing for us humans - maybe the ratkin-Halatu is even a beautiful and awe-inspiring being. Perhaps the whole point of the Skyfire incident was that it was a failed attempt at communication by some extraterrestrial force that now finds fulfillment in ratkin, creatures truly of both worlds.

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The Ratkin (or the infected human), member of (or infected by) a race of creatures obtained by the
adaptament of the Moon's symbionts to Near's biology, has awaken his original state of being. He gains Yellow
Ichor at 1 and Black Ichor at 0 (the most linked to the animal biology), as standard Pools, and he will be able to
increase them normally with the advancements (refreshment works normally, in the way the Secret of
Ichor refreshment describes but without additional costs). He can also develop spontaneously the powers of
symbionts based on these Ichors, but he will have to do it passing through the Secret of Quest for the most
extraordinary (generally the ones based on Black Ichor). Bestiality (V) is retrained under Yellow Ichor, and Litter-
bond (I) under Black Ichor (so he will be able to use them under both standard and ichor Pools, as for the Secret of
Retraining).

I like the mechanics, but I might add an Endurance (V) check to see how many points from other Pools (chosen by player) are transformed into Ichor Pool points (Yellow > Black, otherwise player's choice); if the check fails the player has to buy at least one point of Yellow anyway (with Advance Dept if necessary).

The Ichor Pools probably do not have their own Passive Abilities, unless Bestiality and Litter-Bond are those. I could also see them having some Passive Abilities with strange names and definitions that are not in any language we understand, but perhaps that'd be a bit too meta even for me.

I might also say that this sort of ratkin/Halatu organism does not take Harm from taking or shedding symbionts. The Halatu biosphere is very inter-dependent, and symbiosis relationships are really rather routine within it. That's what those disgusting new orifices are for, so your new friends can crawl inside without trouble :D

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Secret of the mental Rat-symbiont (freely inspired by your own secret up here)

Nice, although I might just add this to the above Secret as it's so close fictionally. Or alternatively, remove the prerequisite so as to make it possible for a ratkin to get this Secret without also making explicit transformation into a being of Halatu-biology. This would be especially sensible if you introduce some icky-factor into the above Secret; a less hardcore talalagist-ratkin could take this Secret while trying to get used to the idea of transforming entirely into his ancestral form.

I like the comparison of ratkin telepathy with Halatu telepathy. The halatu thing is more ethereal and elegant, but the ratkin telepathy is stronger, able to seize control and dominate the weak-willed. This is a nice touch, as it means that the ratkin, even when interpreted as a stray form of Halatu, are not an entire evolutionary dead-end; they're a new development, suited for this savage world of Near.

You know, I just realized that this stuff resembles Elfquest more than a little. The poor ratkin are like wolfrider elves who have to get to grips with their tainted blood as they face their pure-blooded, starfaring antecedents/cousins. That comic gets a lot of mileage out of protagonists whose whole worldview is cast into doubt as they learn more of their world.
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Paolo D.
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« Reply #9 on: April 11, 2011, 07:10:06 AM »

I like your suggestions, especially the one about how to reveal the possible origins of a character's race/powers straight through options and advices from npcs and other fictional events (and without pre-defining a "right" way). Definitely a "Show, don't tell" mode of play that I should keep in mind.

The issue about how to handle a character's backstory through the SG probably is a ghost issue, for now. It's just a matter of "drawing a line" after all (to align all the people on the table on the same expectations about the SG's job here), and we haven't talked about it at the table yet. We'll do it soon, however.

This night is gaming night with our Near's group, I'll let you know how it goes.
Thanks :-)
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Paolo D.
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« Reply #10 on: April 13, 2011, 05:58:48 AM »

Finally I got the time to write.

That was a great night, here's a couple of interesting things:

- I asked the players, at the table, how much I'm authorized to mess with their backstories.
Stefano (Sidonie's player) told me that, of course!, I can mess with his character as I want, because he choose a character with a mysterious past just to enjoy this kind of messing. So, fuck yeah, let's go for it.
Andrea (Moonrat) told me that all the time before he ran from his Ammeni master, is basically fair game (so, in practice, I can mess a lot with his past and his origins).
And with Francesco (Cador) there is no past to mess about... He has a very straight character concept and, easy enough, his past is not on he table as an interesting premise for our game (we'll come back on this matter, should this thing change).
By the way, my point is that there's no "right" answer to my question, I was just interested in draw a line about it (as I mentioned above, we as a group have had plenty of disfunctional experience with campaigns where this line wasn't draw at all) so I'm well satisfied.

- Hah, Moonrat's turning-point day!
His crew/litter abandoned him after a very crucial conflict - they threw him off board and they went with Yellow Fang, a rival ratkin (female, kind of a "horde mother" full of ratkin's mental powers, and always pregnant by the way). Lots of buyoffs, lots of xps, a deleted secret (his ship - now "property" of Yellow Fang), and of course a lot of stress, regret and vengeance desires.
His Kairakau tutor, priest of the Halatu, told him "Now that you are empty, you are ready to be filled, if you want to", and so Moonrat decided to learn how to speak with the Land and to aquire knowledge from it. Now he's a priest of the Halatu too! He had plenty of advancements and was ready to aquire new secrets and keys to reflect the change: Key of Vengeance (Yellow Fang), Key of Outcast (his former litter), Key of the Halatu and Secret of Prophecy (based on Land-speech). He wants to use these powers to found more infos about the meaning and the contents of the Arcane Fog (at least, that was the reason that guided him to this Kairakau priest in the first place, but things are differents know, so we'll see).
And his tutor, in a refreshment scene, showed him an underwater cave full of weird glimmering corals (and living symbionts), with kind of a ratkin-like coral formation melted with the rest - he told him that this was a ratkin like him who discovered the link between his race and the Talalag, and that finally choose to became part of the Halatu. And explained him how to awaken that link. So now Moonrat has acquired the Secret of the mental Rat-symbiont, and a very ugly Vigor symbiont just to start. Yay!
(and it's just the start - I think that he'll meet other npcs with other ideas about what he should do and how he should think of the origins of his race)

- Sidonie found in her ship some ancient gold coins, and she decided to spend some of them to exhaust the debits of the last living member of the family of a guy of her crew (she really cares about them, they are all that's left to her of their former life). The merchant (an Ammeni smuggler) told her that these coin are old thousands of years and that they were produced at the time of a very old Ammeni lord: so he asked her where she took them, and she didn't tell him... But this smuggler knows of the Arcane Fogs, so the avalanche has just started ;-)
Just to make things worst, Yellow Fang just joined Sidonie's little pirate league (a small, poor league that would accept almost everybody just to add more ships to the fleet, and Yellow Fang now has two of them).

Ok, that's it for now. I'm writing some more crunch options for Moonrat, maybe I'll post them later.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #11 on: April 13, 2011, 10:17:56 AM »

Ha, that's sounding quite fun!

Perhaps you could get some traction with the Moonrat by introducing some Kairakau NPCs to interact with? I'm thinking of a suitable refreshment scene where he could meet with some heroic boomerang hunter or virginal ship's mascot or whatever - some likeable people to mirror himself and his revenge against. I also like Yellow Fang, a down-to-earth denmother is a logical choice for an usurper from an idealistic, crazy albino captain.

I'm curious, did you assign the Harm for taking on a symbiont, and how large was the Vigor symbiont? Did you roll for how large it would be, or did you just assign it? (Both of those are valid - I'd assign a value if the symbiont was given by a NPC, but roll for it with Landspeech if a character was searching for one himself. Or, I guess I could give a 1-size symbiont of arbitrary SG choice to anybody without a check; the Talalag are pretty common in the ecosystem, I imagine. As long as you don't care what you inject yourself with and have the patience to search a bit, anybody can probably find some small, common symbiont just lying on the beach or attached to some plant or plant-like larger Halatu-creature. I think you don't need any particular Secrets or Abilities to take them, unless I misremember, as long as you're fine with the Harm.)

I like the underwater cave as a fictional element, it's rather exotic and fantastic, just as it should be. I imagine that one thing that makes heroic captains and landspeakers cool and otherworldly is how they have this whole another world they can visit; I intentionally made the symbionts that aid in aquatic life simple and common to make this the first detachment these people get from the rest of humanity. It occurs to me that none of the three primary Pool symbionts allows one to see in the dark, though, which would be useful in the dark recesses and deep trenches... that probably should come with the pressure/temperature symbiont, whichever it was - no sight, exactly, but some mysterious sense (electromagnetic, like fishes have) that helps a bit.

Anyway, jolly good job. Let us know how the game proceeds!
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Paolo D.
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« Reply #12 on: April 14, 2011, 05:21:30 AM »

About the symbiont: in this refreshment scene in the cave, his Kairakau tutor attracted a swarm of symbionts from the nearby, and Moonrat was able to choose the one he wanted to take, in terms of size and powers. This was some kind of initiation ritual, so I thought that it could be right in this case to just let him choose which symbiont should represents better his desires in terms of power, and his willingness to risk in terms of size.
He choose a size 3 Vigor symbiont, and so, as per the book, he took an unresistable 3rd level Harm (under Vigor; the Pool it's not stated explicitely in the manual, but it talks of "phisically painful", so I just thinked that Vigor could be the one). No check allowed to reduce it, but there's a Secret dedicated to this after all, and maybe he'll take it sooner or later.

Next time, I think that he won't be able to just choose, but he'll have to search for the symbiont he wants in some way, he's able to take care of it with his Litter-bond (I) now, after all.

For the supersense symbiont: I think that this could deserve a symbiont of his own, like a second brand new "Istinct Symbiont #2" or something like that.
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