Literary World Laws in Eclipse, Part Two – Empowering Tropes

Occult:

Every child knows it. That which is of the darkness thrives in the darkness. Monsters lurk where the light does not show. The shadows breed fear, treachery, and dread powers. There is a reason why “Occult” means more than “hidden”. Secrecy itself is a source of magical power for aberrant and monstrous things.

True monsters – the ooze that devours a village, the pack of lycanthropes that hunts the night, the things that descend from the dark between the stars, the whispered tyrant who has escaped his grave – are strengthened by mystery and weakened by investigation; to complete their defeat the heroes must drag their secrets into the light.

A “True Monster” is named and unique. A mere wolf can be a suitable True Monster for lower level heroes, even while leading a pack of lesser wolves – but it will not be just a wolf with a couple of extra hit dice. It will be the Beast of Gévaudan, an oversized and cunning man-eater who has stolen and devoured women and children for miles about, Its habit of carrying off kids from farmyards, the lost toe that gives it a distinctive track, the great pack it leads, and its near-demonic size and strength will all become a part of its legend after the heroes discover those traits and defeat it.

And with each hidden trait… it gains occult power. It gains one Occult Ability from the list below for each of it’s four hidden traits plus one for the name it’s legend will bear even after it is slain. It will lose one of those traits each time the heroes uncover one of those traits or if it is “killed” – but if it is “slain” while it has even a single Occult Ability remaining, it will simply fade away into the shadows to reform the next night – although this too will cost it an Occult Ability.

Thus – after investigating a few disappearances – the heroes will likely identify the Beasts unique spoor, and so know that it is a single creature, depriving it of one Occult Ability. Deducing it’s preference for women and children and setting a trap for it will cost it another (perhaps reducing it’s massive size and strength) – or perhaps even two if it is “slain” in the ambush. Discovering that it leads a huge pack is likely to result in some nasty injuries, but will cost it another Ability – and its final trait will fall away when it becomes a named legend, known to the people of the area, and it is finally brought to bay.

Possible Occult Abilities:

  1. Accursed: The creature radiates an Unhallow effect. It, and any lesser creatures or minions that it leads, are always protected by a Magic Circle Against Good, positive energy channeling effects are made at a -4 level penalty, and negative energy channeling effects gain a +4 level profane bonus (spell resistance does not apply), and it gets one of the following benefits: 1) a 40′ radius is Silenced, 2) It and it’s allies gain either Resistance 30 or Protection From Energy versus any one form of energy, 3) It and it’s allies gain Freedom Of Movement, 4) All opposing spellcasting is subject to a Dispel Magic check, 5) a 40′ radius is filled with Deeper Darkness, or 6) Creatures that come within a 40′ radius are attacked by a Fear effect. If saves apply, a new one is made every three rounds.
  2. Bloodwright: The creature commands powers of Ice, Wind, Darkness, Necromancy, Illusion, or Poison (select two). It has 3d6 Mana per encounter and may expend 1/2/3/4 points at CR 1+/5+/10+/16+ to produce an effect within it’s themes of levels 1-2/3-4/5-6/7-8. The range of effects available to any particular creature tends to be fairly limited, but will almost invariably cover some of it’s major weaknesses and offer it more options.
  3. Corrupting Presence: While a creature with this ability is in the area the heroes cannot rely on anyone else; any good and kindly people will be too cowed to actually help out, and any major authorities will be disbelievers, fools, being undermined by corrupt underlings, attempting to use the monsters presence, or will be actively supporting it for their own ends.
  4. Darkwalker: The creature has the equivalent of a Greater Blink spell active at all times – although it moves through the Plane Of Shadow rather than the Ethereal Plane, thus Detect Invisibility and Force Effects offer no special benefits against it. The GM MAY allow Ghost Touch weapons to work if he or she is being kind.
  5. Devourer: The creature can swallow up to one-half it’s hit dice worth of other creature, taking their abilities as it’s own. Any damage, negative spell effects, or similar problems are suffered by the imprisoned creatures first – until they die, and are digested for good. It is possible to free an imprisoned entity by going in after it and fighting your way out, casting spells such as Plane Shift, Teleportation, Maze, or Imprisonment on the creature (since the effect will transfer to the creature or creatures inside),
  6. Enfolding Shadows: The creature is always aware of the presence of heroic individuals and may evade them; it cannot be surprised, flanked, or sneak attacked, is immune to critical hits, and may choose to strike at NPC’s when no heroes are about or at PC’s when they are isolated (presuming that they are foolish enough to separate and allow it). Similarly, it is unaffected by mind-affecting powers.
  7. Fair Seeming: The creature may take an innocuous form, immune to detection save by some GM-chosen special means. Everyone in the area will vaguely recall the creature as a member of their community while this power is in use. While so transformed the creature may bond with up to three innocent folk, gradually transforming them into lesser monsters, or draining their life force, or getting them pregnant with young monsters, or gradually draining their power, or some such. Stopping such a drain requires researching an appropriate ritual, magic beyond what the heroes can easily access, divine intervention, or destroying the creature before the end.
  8. Ill Omens: The creature’s presence twists the environment into a place suited for it. Not only is it invariably finding old cemeteries, crypts, patches of warped wilderness, haunted mansions, and similar places to lurk – each with their own population of minor monsters. While none will be able to draw on the Occult for power, the longer the primary monster remains undefeated, the deeper and darker the depths will grow, until there is a true necropolis, megadungeon, or similar. When in such a location the creature enjoys a +4 untyped bonus on all it’s rolls, its AC, and turn resistance and may easily lead heroes into groups of comparatively minor monsters.
  9. Indistinct: The creature cannot be identified; it’s presence blurs all senses, detection spells, and special abilities short of True Seeing (which may provide a vague, but usable, description). It may successfully flee an encounter at any point, even if paralyzed or otherwise trapped – although the description of how this happens is up to the game master.
  10. Looming: The Darkness lends strength and size. The creature may increase it’s size by up to two size categories above it’s base size at will. (This is a very common option for the more bestial monsters that principally rely on physical strength and violence).
  11. Roots Of Evil: The Darkness has granted the creature a panoply, It effectively has wealth as a PC of it’s (CR + 1), and can understand and use it’s equipment appropriately. Sadly, that “gear” is only the result of the cloak of shadows that surrounds it; when this ability is removed, the items fade away into shadows rather than becoming loot.
  12. Untraceable. The creatures lair, any imprisoned hostages/emergency snacks, and wealth, are hidden within a dimensional fold, and cannot be traced or located by anything short of a Miracle, Wish, or Divine Intervention. It may return there to rest, recover, and plot in absolute security until this quality is removed.

In literature, monsters are rarely just wandering about, or sitting behind a door reading a book while waiting for the heroes to kick in the door and attack. There are glimpses first, then attacks where it shows how destructive it can be, then an inconclusive battle, then tracking the horror to it’s lair and doing battle with whatever awaits there. And – for some reason – the monster usually gets easier to defeat along the way, if only because the heroes have seen what it can do and have learned to counter its tricks. Just as importantly, coming to the rescue is considerably more heroic than murdering funny-looking people and taking their stuff – even if they DO have an “evil!” tag pasted on their foreheads.

Lure Of Corruption

Where wickedness is given entrance, corruption follows.

Heroes are rarely unblemished. All too often they must deceive, threaten, kill, or employ lesser evils to stand against the greater ones. Those are necessary, or excusable evils. But sometimes… “heroes” do evil things that are simply unnecessary, even if they are often convenient. Each such incidence of true wickedness leaves it’s mark – a warning to others, a bit of dark power awaiting use, and a point of vulnerability that the darkness can exploit.

The game master should always let the characters know when their actions are about to cross the line into true wickedness. But if they choose to do so – torturing opponents, taking the bandits stolen treasure and leaving their victims to starve, or whatever the game master feels qualifies in the setting – their Corruption score will increase by one. Corruption can be reduced, but it is a terribly slow process requiring months or years of meditation and atonement.

  • Each Wicked act grants the creature that performs it three Action Points. They may spend them in any way they could normally use an Action Point or on the Heroism option – whether or not they normally have access to that option.
  • Each Wicked act opens the creature that performs it to the influence of the darkness. Each act of Wickedness allows the game master to either cause a single action (whether an attack, a spell, a save or other action) to fail or to have an attack or shock render the offender Stunned for two rounds.
  • A characters total Corruption score is reflected in their aura, and – as it increases – can show physically as well, A character who attains a corruption score of 5+ will show the touch of darkness in their aura and a noticeable touch of evil. At 10+ they will show some minor physical sign – burning eyes, talon-like fingernails, pointed teeth, or some such. At 15+ they will acquire a GM-chosen Disadvantage, but gain no points from it. Their alignment will never be detected as having a “good” component and they cannot use items with a “good” alignment. At 20+ they will gain another GM-chosen Disadvantage, will show major physical signs of their corruption, and can no longer use “neutral” items either – although evil ones will accept them readily. Finally, at 25+ they will gain a third GM-chosen disadvantage (but still get no points for them) and – each time they gain an additional point of corruption – must roll a d100 above their current score or transform into a villainous NPC with a truly monstrous form – although that makes them ineligible for further benefits or penalties from acts of Wickedness. At this point they are expected.

Most heroic types will never really worry about Corruption. For that matter, most of the more rationally evil types won’t have too much trouble with it. It does serve as a way to discourage the most gratuitously obnoxious antiheroes and can provide a character who’s going over the edge into noxious insanity with some substantial bonuses.

It’s Written In The Stars:

Perhaps the crudest and simplest way to provide some foreshadowing for the actions of the player characters is to provide them with a special bonus or two – but ensure that it’s very limited use and that everyone knows about it in advance. Then when they use it, behold! Foreshadowing!

The quickest and cheapest way? Grab the list of vignettes from “Stealing The Scene”, print them out in big print, cut them apart, and have every player draw a couple at the start of each session and display them. Behold! Every character now has a minor plot twist or two to pull out at some critical point – and everyone will be looking forward to when he or she uses it. Are there are a few vignettes that will make too big a mess of your plot? Leave them out of the hat at the start of the session. Somewhat more elaborately, you could use any tarot or medicine cards, any deck of whimsy cards you have handy, or my own Runecards (shameless plug here). If anyone hasn’t used their trick at the end of the session, it goes back in the hat; it’s use it or lose it.

This is simple, mechanical, and more than a bit metagamey – but it can certainly be fun, which is the important part. If a player becomes especially fond of a particular trick – perhaps wanting to regularly find secret passages – that can be accommodated by simply giving him or her that particular trick most of the time. After all, the distribution does not HAVE to be random – and and you will have achieved a form of long-term foreshadowing through player cooperation. Is there any reason NOT to let Zorath the Slayer be known for finding secret passages and escape routes when he needs them?

In Media Res:

Another quick trick for game masters – and an interesting way to let the players plan enough to simulate a practiced group of adventurers – is to use cliffhangers. It’s all too common to end a gaming session with the characters at an inn, or camping, or otherwise having a little downtime.

Don’t do that if you can possibly avoid it. It’s DULL. Has the party just hacked their way through a swarm of undead pirates? End the session as the cargo hatch opens and the undead pirate lord rises up, leading even more undead horrors for an even tougher fight.

Now the players have a good idea what is coming, and time to have inventive ideas and come up with ways of dealing with Captain Bloodwrath. They’ll have all week, ot two weeks, or however long it is between your sessions to think about it, come up with interesting stunts, and good lines. Sure, not all of them will bother to come up with much, but all of them will know what’s coming up. Is someone late to the next session? They fell overboard and it took time to fish them out. Do they not make it at all? Perhaps they fell though the deck and were trapped in the brig for a while.

For that matter, there is nothing at all wrong with skipping a bit of time to start in an action scene, especially if you’ve run a few possible plotlines past the players in advance so that there won’t be much argument about abruptly being involved with one that they’ve already approved. Were the characters peacefully resting? Tell them a scroll arrived and close up. Next session? Put them right in the middle of the fight with two golems that they must get past to rescue the kidnapped prince or princess. If you are feeling generous, after a round or two go to a flashback of them receiving the mission, tell them that they had some idea of what they’d be confronting – and let them spend a few minutes doing their downtime stuff and shopping before telling them how they wound up in that fight scene and dropping them back into it.

It’s an artificial way to provide a little “scouting” (obviously they found out about the golems and general environment of the area where the hostage was being hold in advance), of letting the characters prepare for a particular set of challenges, and of providing some forewarning of what they’re going to be up against all at once. It’s not always going to be appropriate – but it’s well worth using when it is.

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One Response

  1. […] you are, after all, admitting that narrative in itself has true power – but then you can use Occult Monsters and other world laws to make up for […]

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