Monsters!

Kalyr is a game about people, not a game of gods and monsters. This fellow is the nearest things to an out-and-out monster who’s ever appeared in the game, a psychotic alien serial killer shaped like a blob.

So, should he go into the “Sample NPC” list? What do people think?

Aspects
Murderous Demon Serial Killer
Shapeless Alien Blob
Relies on Psi for senses, communication and manipulation
Not a native of Kalyr
The Power of Mindswitch
Kills through Telekinesis
Needs a host for maximum effectiveness
The Servants of The Academy of Life Must Die!

Skills
Unarmed Combat: Superb
Mind Control: Superb
Body Control: Great
Telekinisis: Great
Endurance: Good
Willpower: Good
Stealth: Good
Athletics: Fair
Strength: Fair
Language (Native alien tongue, Mannish, Filgan, Vohrran): Fair
Administration: Fair
Natural Science: Average
Far-Sensing: Average
Mind-Reading: Average
Mindspeech: Average
Technical Devices: Average

Zoyvegkk Uup is an alien, of a strange race called The Drarth. His natural form is a shapeless blob. He can extrude pseudopods, and can even assume a vaguely humanoid shape when required, but he has to use psionics for senses, communication and fine manipulation.

Although there are others of his race living in remote parts of Kalyr, Zoyvegkk Uup is not himself a native, but was sent to Kalyr by some outside agency on a mission which involved some kind of investigation into the activities of The Academy of Life. Quite what that mission was, or even the name and origin of that outside agency is forgotten. Even to Zoyvegkk Uup, for he has forgotten.

Somewhere, and somehow, he ended up in a titanic battle involving both a kandar wizard and a skilled martial artist. The battle left Zoyvegkk’s two opponents dead, but Zoyvegkk himself seriously brain-burned. The pain turned him, never that stable in the first place, seriously insane, even by the standards strange standards of his race.

Zoyvegkk is now a serial killer, preying on the Academy of Life, and anyone who he suspects of serving them. Many of those he’s killed are innocents who had no links with the Academy.

He has many ways of killing. Sometimes he attacks physically, lashing out with pseudopods in all directions, using martial arts knowledge subsumed from the martial artist he fought. Sometimes he kills by Telekinesis alone. Sometimes he mind-controls his victims, forcing them to kill one another. Sometimes he mindswitches from victim to victim, channelling his martial arts skills through kandar and human bodies.

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Names

One of my favourite line in any RPG rulebook comes from The Dying Earth RPG, and reads as follows:

If you give your character a mundane or anachronistic name, like Nigel or Sue, your GM should allow you proceed though the entire creation process, only to have your character horribly slain in the opening scene of the first adventure. Do not say we failed to warn you.

The Dying Earth RPG is of course based on Jack Vance’s famous fantasy novel of the same name. While Kalyr is not based on any specific Vance work, many of his novels have influenced the setting.

I think we should enforce this rule :)

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To Stunt, or not to Stunt?

There is one significant design issue I’m wrestling with at the moment, namely should the game use stunts or not?

Stunts allow players to individualise their core abilities. You can add additional feats and powers beyond the normal scope of the skills. And you can use them to specialise. The downside is stunts add an extra level of complexity which goes against the grain of the lightweight FATE implementation I’m trying to write.

I’m thinking along the lines of the model adopted by Awesome Adventures, which makes aspects do slightly more work. Invoking aspects can modify the scope of skills, rather than just give a bonus to the die roll. You do lose a bit of crunch; if for example, your character is a highly-skilled martial artist, using stunts you might define a series of moves as stunts at character creation time, each with a precisely defined effect. Without stunts you just take something like “Grand master of Kandar-Fu” as an aspect, and then spend FATE points in-game to define what cool moves a Grand Master can do actually during play. For a PBeM-type game where six months’ of message gaming might be equivalent to a night’s play in a tabletop environment, I’m thinking that may well be the way to go.

Some FATE systems, such as the best-selling Dresden Files RPG have a powers system that relies very heavily on stunts. While the Kalyr setting is psionics-heavy, I’m using a skill-based system for powers. So a high-powered psi would need to devote a big chunk of the skill pyramid to those skills. The issue here is balancing psionics and normals. Perhaps supernormal skills still should cost refresh?

Eliminating stunts may end up having a knock-on effect on skills. I think this needs playtesting in chargen; are there any valid character concepts that really need stunts and can’t be modelled with just skills and aspects?

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The Guardianspeaker

Another fictional vignette. This one is a actually a rewriting of the opening GM post for one of the player character in Dreamlyrics.

Jorlak stood in the windowless chamber beneath the temple and placed his hands upon the oracle.

Once the ancient device connected with his mind, the stone-walled room gradually faded from view, and Jorlak found himself in the other world. His body remained in the temple, he knew, frozen in place with hands fixed to that strange artefact on it’s pedestal. But his consciousness was in that strange place where The Guardians dwelt.

He found himself in a vast library, books and scrolls beyond counting, on shelves that went on apparently forever in all directions. He was in the library of of the Guardian Zardor. Not only that, he found himself looking straight into the timeless immortal eyes of the Guardian himself.

This was clearly something significant; normally Jorlak, as one of the most junior of the temple’s Guardianspeakers, dealt with one of Zardor’s servitors, spirits of the most faithful servants serving him in this realm beyond the end of their mortal lives. Just as significantly, Zardor appeared to him this time as a human.

“My servant Jorlak”, said the Guardian, “I have a task for you to perform”.

Jorlak nodded, but said nothing. You don’t interrupt a Guardian or ask silly questions.

“The Academy of Knowledge”, Zardor continued, “You saw their airship arrive yesterday”.

Jorlak nodded again. Everyone in the city had seen that vast ancient machine, now tethered to the Academy’s dome. The streets and taverns were buzzing with speculation over why it had come, and who or what might be aboard it. There were rumours that it contained terrible weapons.

“You are to find out as much as you can about that craft’s mission and contents. The fate of the whole of Kalyr may be at stake. You are my eyes and ears in this city, and as a human, you may get to see and hear things that a kandar might not. Dress in street clothes so you’re not recognised as one of my servants, and visit the taverns off-duty academicians frequent. Listen, gain their confidence, get them to speak. Separate truth from rumours, as a good servant of mine must”.

With those words, he turns to leave. As he does so, the infinite library fades, and Jorlak finds himself back that featureless underground chamber, wondering how might follow The Guardian’s order without getting himself killed by The Academy of Knowledge’s feared Men In Black.

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A Day in the Life of a Knight

Another fictional vignette.

Asath d’n Vesheyrnath spoke the word of command to kill the lighting, and left the underground hall in darkness.

As he emerged blinking into the Calbeyn daylight he wondered whether any of those boys or girls, kandar or human, really had what it takes to become a temple knight. It needs a special combination of spiritual and martial qualities to serve the Guardian Ulseth the Just, celestial righter of wrongs in the way he did. But then he suspected that a decade ago Danasin, now the captain of the knights, had wondered the same about him. If Danasin hadn’t seen some potential, Asath would have stayed a cheesemaker in the Guild of Victuallers, just like his father. So better not to judge any of them too harshly.

He’d just spent many hours sparring with the sons and daughters of temple worshippers with wooden practice swords, and regaling them with tales such as the time the temple knights took on the ring of slavers and dragged them all back to the city in the chains meant for the slaves. The humans all liked that one, of course. All of were impressed when he demonstrated his narvork sword, of course, that sharp-edged instrument of justice that can slice an evildoer right down the middle.

He didn’t dwell on the fact being a temple knight means a lot of time spent on guard duty, or acting as bodyguards for the priests, rather than going forth and smiting evil. And he certainly avoided any mention of the messy end of the slavers story, when despite all the senior Guardianspeaker’s famed knowledge of the law, all of them proved too well connected with the merchant’s guild to face justice, and the temple were forced to release them all.

“There you are, Asath”, says a young novice, her robes marking him out as belonging to the most junior rank of the Guardianspeakers, “Alzandol wants to speak with you”.

“What, now?”, Asath says, “Can’t it wait?”

“Asath says it’s urgent”.

Reluctantly Asath makes his way to the senior Guardianspeaker’s chambers. He finds Alzandol in his study, on the highest level with the broad windows looking out across the gorge the holds the city.

“You wanted to see me”, he says.

“Yes”, replies the Guardianspeaker, “Our friends The Progressors need our help. It’s for a very covert mission of significant danger”.

“What does it entail”, asks Asath, “And why do they need our help?”.

“Travel into the Konaic Empire”, says Alzandol. Asath lets out a gasp; Alzandol clearly wasn’t exaggerating when he spoke of significant danger.

“There is a talented human child”, Alzandol continues, “A slave in the household of a high ranking noble in the city of Selnin. If the wizards of Selnin were to discover the child, they will kill him, as they do with any such human they find. The Progressors intend to travel to the city disguised as merchants, find this child, and bring him back to the Academy of the Mind here in Calbeyn. They need a skilled warrior to accompany them and defend against the dangers they may face on the journey, or at the destination. I suggested your name”.

Asath considers the implications of this; he’s bodyguarding a bunch of wizards on an errand into the heart of a brutal empire. This is the sort of thing he might not come back from. But the values of the Konaic Empire stand in total opposition to everything the Guardian Ulseth stands for. It’s precisely the sort of thing Asath became a knight to do. If he’s not willing to go on such a mission, he might as well be making cheese with his father.

“When do we leave?”, he asks.

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Character Generation Playtest – First Pass, Phase Three

And into the third round we go. You’re all writing far more than I expected!  If I’ve read it all correctly, we now have the following connections:

  • Andlak -> Rutgar, Reneth
  • Nyesh -> Dreyrath, Fyala, Ziryon
  • Will -> Rutgar, Dreyrath
  • Ziryon -> Abilyr, Nyesh, Dreyrath
  • Mirlark -> Eythduis, and I’m assuming his missing mother is the second NPC.

And therefore the following NPCs

  • Reneth – Journeyman in the Maker’s guild
  • Abilyr – now a master of the Academy of Knowledge
  • Rutgar – A seasoned gladiator.
  • Dreyrath – Successful merchant with connections in high places in Calbeyn
  • Fyala – Dreyrath’s daughter
  • Eythduis d’n Zafeyn – The Verger at the Temple of Rulana (Need a more Kalyran title though – this is not the C of E!)
  • The first part of Mirlark saga didn’t specify an NPC, so I’m going to declare it to be Mirlark’s mother.

So now – what happens next?

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Arrival at Calbeyn

Fictional vignette number three. These are all starting to follow a predictable structure, a point-of-view character who’s both an archetypal character for the setting and a viable PC, some elements of setting colour, and an something resembling an adventure seed.

The river barge eased through the archway cut into the massive defensive wall, and into the docks of Calbeyn. The harnessed creatures towing the boat thrashed at the water with their writhing mass of tentacles, as the boatman manoeuvred the vessel along the quayside.

Standing at the waterfront, Alnate d’n Larane felt her sixth sense tingle; somebody was using mental powers very close to her. It was a moment before she realised what it was she was sensing – it was the pilot of the river barge. He’s got a mental link to those bizarre aquatic creatures. He is one of us.

Not a member of the Academy of the Mind, though. At least, not anyone she recognised. Perhaps as a minor talent, he’s better off that way. He doesn’t have to deal with academy politics, for a start. And more importantly, he’s not going to be called up to perform the city rulers’ dirty work. With her strong talent for sensing, at least she’s out of the really unpleasant stuff. Forensic psychometry is one of the less objectionable things a wizard may be asked to perform. She doesn’t have the talent for mind-reading or mind-control. Psychic interrogation of the city’s enemies, or worse still, pre-emptive crowd screening. It’s the stuff that makes wizards enemies of the mundanes. They are many, and we are few. And they hate and fear us.

Do our bidding when needed, and we’ll protect you from the mob; that has always been the deal. Alnate wonders if they’ll keep their end of the bargain when push comes to shove.

A kandar man dressed in expensive robes stepped off the rivercraft.

“Welcome to Calbeyn, brother Urlath”, Alnate said to him, “I trust your journey from Valgar was pleasant?”.

“Next time”, he replied, “remind me not to share rooms with one who snores. At three out of five traveller’s inns he and I were assigned to the same room”. He glances at another disembarking passenger, an elderly guardianspeaker, now met by a delegation from his temple.

“You are in the city now, under the hospitality of my family. There will be an end to snoring, I assure you. Our family slave will collect your bags”

“Anyway, how is life in Calbeyn”, he asked.

“The centre holds for now. Humans agitate for more freedom, the more fearful of we kandar demand they be kept down. The city-lord Lenata Tyr tries to balance the two. I do not envy her in her position. Some say the fate of Kalyr depends on the fate of Calbeyn. There have been assassinations, rumours of Konaic plots. We live in interesting times, my brother”.

Alnate felt her senses tingling, a second time. This time it was far more powerful, not a mere boatman but a sensation far stronger. In her head was a feeling of foreboding, a terrible twisting of space and time, and a powerful premonition of imminent bloodshed and death. The sensation is so overwhelming she lost her balance and falls to the ground.

“Sister!”, said Urlath, as he moved to help her to her feet. Her face was as white as a sheet. “Are you all right? You look as though you have seen a ghost”.

“I have”, she replied, “Something terrible is happening”.

Again, some questions for anyone that cares to answer them:

  • What does this tell you about the setting?
  • How strong an impression of the setting does it give you?
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The Caravan

Another fictional vignette.

For a merchant, the highest risk brings the highest profit. For Urluis d’n Farnath, trading across the front line of a war is about as risky as it gets.

To keep well away from the actual war zone, Urluis’ caravan must head out west, following a big loop, something like three times the distance of a more direct route. And it’s all through lawless wilderness, populated by isolated tribes of feral humans, vordral and worse things.

His caravan is heavily armed. It has to be, not all the tribes are friendly, and some of them are better armed than they have any right to be. While some say the security division of the Merchant’s Guild is little more than a clearing house for mercenaries, every man and woman in Urluis’ employment is more than reliable. Whether kandar or human, many of them have served in the legion, some of them veterans of the war itself. A couple of humans in the caravan Urluis recruited from the tribes whose territory they cross; in a land such as this, their local knowledge and contacts are priceless.

Urluis knows better than to ask precisely what’s in these boxes, some kind of machine parts, he’s told. Why the Academy of Knowledge needs to import such things from the zughru, of all people, is a mystery to him. Why can’t they just make their own? But there is a lot of mystery when it comes to the Academy of Knowledge and their machines.

Four days out from the isolated zughru trading post on the fringes of their territory, Urluis urges the lead pack-beast forward along the narrow trail through the rolling wooded hills. He has always wondered how The Academy of Life managed to create these beasts. Sure-footed on their six legs, with endurance beyond that of any common creature, and a digestive system that meant they can eat just about anything, the Academy of Life justifies the high prices they charge. Nobody but the academy can breed these apparently sexless creatures; in fact nobody knows if they grow pregnant or lay eggs. Maybe they’re spawned in vats, created by some dark magic. They certainly bear no resemblance to any natural creature of Kalyr.

Urluis stops dead at a signal from his human scout, Qeelu. It seems she’s seen something in the forests ahead. Urluis confers with his most senior caravan guard, the grizzled ex-legionnaire Leyrandol.

“Trouble ahead”, he says in hushed tones, “Don’t know what Qeelu’s seen, but I fear it’s not good”.

Qeelu herself has now disappeared into the undergrowth. Leyrandol gives the well-rehearsed hand signal to his men and women to ready weapons. As a civilian operation they don’t have access to military weaponry such as flamelances, but a few somewhat illicit explosive crossbow quarrels ought to give any enemy pause for thought.

Leyrandol opens his mouth to speak, but before he can utter a word a beam of coherent light splits the world open. His head explodes like a rotten fruit leaving his headless corpse still mounted on his riding-beast for a moment before it tumbles to the ground.

As the men and women of the caravan dive for cover, Urluis realises he no longer cares about the profit this trip was going to make. When faced with an unseen enemy armed with energy weapons, all he wants now is to make it out of this alive.

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Trouble in Elbeyn

I’m toying with the idea of the presenting as much as possible of the game setting in the form of short fiction, in which a lot of the game background is implied rather than stated explicitly in dry info-dumps.

This one actually doubles up as both setting flavour and adventure seed, which is precisely the sort of thing I’m aiming for.

Dartheyn d’n Eruinar was not having a good day.

Heading the Administration Division of the Academy of Knowledge in the city of Elbeyn was never going to be one of Kalyr’s easiest jobs, he reflected. Endless meetings with his opposite numbers in the city’s other guilds was no way to spend a morning. And today it was nothing but nit-picking discussions about contracts and services rendered and payments by people who liked the sounds of their own voices but didn’t really have a clue what they were talking about. Life would be easier if all other guilds were as meritocratic as his, rather than using the senior ranks as dumping grounds for the idiot sons and daughters of the noble clans. Who always thought their noble rank made them superior to him, when everybody knows how much they depended on competent freemen below them to get anything done.

And with the glorious ruler of the city absent most of the time, too busy playing games of intrigue in the imperial court in the capital, this shower of idiots effectively formed the government of the city. We don’t stand a chance, he thought. One day, the humans from the wilds will take over, just as in the apocalyptic predictions of the Guardianspeaker of Kardak the Defender. And what’s more, we kandar will deserve it, for being so hopeless. Either that, or the brutally disciplined kandar legions of the Koniac Empire will just roll over us like a man stepping on an ant.

He is not sure which fate is worse. Dead or enslaved is dead or enslaved, regardless of whether it’s by the hand of humans, or fellow kandar.

His communicator pings, snapping him out of such morbid thoughts. Through the device he hears the disembodied voice of the chief of the Security Division, Usalu Blerynthar. Yes, she’s a noble, from that notoriously feuding and murderous clan, but she’s more than competent at the job. Simply surviving growing up in that clan gives the skills to make a good security operative, and by The Guardians, she’s good.

“Bad news, Dartheyn”, she says.

“What’s the problem”, he asks. The tone of her voice was enough to tell him an already bad day was just about to get worse.

“We’ve found Vargeyn”, she says, “The bad news is that he’s very very dead. Guild of Construction work gang found the body this morning, in the storm drain, clearing the blockages after yesterday’s rain.

“Guardians!”, he said, “How did he die?”

“Stab wounds, it appears”, she replies, “Think we need backup from the Academy of the Mind here – some psychometry on the body and the scene is going to help”.

“That will be done”, he says, “The mind-benders owe us enough favours. Contact them right now, and tell them we need one of their best”.

He silently curses to himself. Vargeyn was one of his best auditors. He’d been working on irregularities with the usage agreements for equipment supplied to the Academy of Life, who had been getting more evasive and more slippery with each passing moment. He was convinced those power generators and refrigeration units were not being used for the purposes that had been stipulated in the many pages of agreements the Academy of Life had signed. Vargeyn turning up dead like that seemed to much of a coincidence.

Somebody is going to pay for this.

Those of you who have read this far, what does this tell you of the world? Does it make you want to know more?

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Karela Blerynthar – The Artist Assassin

This character was a player character from the very early years of the game – Sadly I’ve long since lost touch with the player who created her. Thanks to Sean (Pandemonium) who suggested one or two of the aspects – I’ll take no responsibility for the one that sounds like the title of a 1970s exploitation movie.

With 30 skill levels she’s actually at the upper end of the range of campaign power levels – she’s out of place for a street-level game.

Name: Karela Blerynthar
Context:
Noble Artist and Assassin, Filgeth
Goal:
Life for the moment
Appearance:
Tall and slim female kandar with long, long legs and a figure to die for, Karela is guaranteed to draw attention (unless she’s trying not to). She has waist-length steel-black hair which she sometimes wears straight, sometimes in ringlets, braids, plaits or in bizarre creations if she considers a new style is essential for a formal meeting. Her skin is smooth with a hint of olive and her dark, almost black almond-shaped eyes are set off by high cheekbones. Her full lips might one moment be poised for a kiss, then a pout, then a cruel sneer.

Aspects
Lives more than a double life
Kandar daughter of depravity
Idle noble of Clan Blerynthar [Rank]
The art of assassination
Execute with precision and taste
Up close and personal
Looks to die for
Must avoid her parents

Skills
Stealth: Great
Charm: Great
Art: Good
Rank: Good
Melee (Knife, Fencing Blade): Good
Deceit: Fair
Athletics: Fair
Breaking and Entering: Fair
Perception: Fair
Willpower: Average
Insight: Average
Kandar Social Graces: Average
Languages: Average
Kandar Education: Average

With no particular duties to occupy her at home as the third daughter in a minor noble house of the Great Empire, Karela first took up painting, then fencing as ways to occupy her time in Keylin, beyond the decadent and depraved manner in which she was expected to lead her life. Her family has never been powerful enough to vie for power and has instead dedicated itself to the service of enough other great families to ensure its survival through any number of intrigues and purges, though a few members might be sacrificed. One of her uncles introduced her to the fine art of assassination and from then on her life hasn’t been the same.

Karela is as serious about assassination as she is about her painting, both are arts which deserve to be executed with skill, precision and taste. Not for her the random act of poisoning or the remoteness of the crossbow or flamelance. No, Karela likes the “up close and personal” approach, a dagger in the ribs, a slit throat in the night or the precise thrust of a rapier in a dim corridor or boudoir.

Karela presents three alternative faces to the world: An idle daughter of a noble house with nothing better to do than travel around, painting, visiting distant relatives, getting into scrapes and causing scandal. A competent, secretive assassin, whether as an agent of the Vulan or freelance. An amoral slut, forced by circumstance into a life of depravity. These three aspects are all part of Karela and she is likely to establish all three identities in a city, though the assassin will only appear if she has work to do.

She has no particular motives or goals, she simply seeks to pursue her arts, enjoy life as any decadent Kandar should, spend money, steer clear of her parents, serve the Vulan when necessary and gather enough dirt on other nobles so as to collect favours and protection for the rest of her life.

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