Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Film Review: Skinamarink

 I've tried to commit to writing more often on the blog...with a mix of success from week to week. I figure if I can at least manage 2 posts a week that's a good number. As usual, this is more about providing me with a medium for exercising my writing brain and habits more than anything; I feel I've let them atrophy over the last couple years, need to turn that around!

I used to write a lot more critiques on film and games, so let's try more of that. Today: Skinamarink, a 2023 film release that is worth a watch (for some)!

The negative space has taken everything

Skinamarink (2023) (trailer)

Only available on Shudder.com currently (the only streaming service I have subscribed to for almost as long as Netflix),  Skinamarink released in January of this year to the angst and anxiety of an endless array of unsuspecting viewers. Shudder is a great horror site for obscure, hard to find and unusual films. It has some more conventional stuff, and indeed if you're into genres such as 80's horror and slasher flicks its got you covered. But if you want to also find some really unusual rare gems, strange things which can exist nowhere else comfortably, Shudder's got it. 

Skinamarink is an example of this specialized "this peg won't fit anywhere" genre of film. It's not quite a movie in any sense most people would consider....I'd actually draw closer comparisons to experimental films such as those of David Lynch (Eraserhead comes to mind), or the cavalcade of exotic and often surreal, inexplicable arthouse shorts that existed in days of yore (and may still exist), only discoverable at a local indie film house. In the 80's and 90's a movie like Skinamarink just wouldn't exist where the plebs could find it. Today its a film that manages limited theatrical releases and resides for confused and angry plebs to discover on streaming. 

The most important thing to know before watching Skinamarink is that its not a film in any conventional sense, though arguably a narrative does sort of happen. It's more of an experience, and not a pleasant one; almost no one will want to watch this more than once for anything other than the most clinical of reasons. Skinamarink is meant to be experienced, analyzed, then lauded or damned for its results, but never forgotten.

Key in the film's repertoire of effects is an intent to use a grotesque audio, digitally rendered film grain imperfections, filming almost entirely in darkness or with limited use of light, and even then only if the light itself causes discomfort with flickering CRT-modulation effects whenever possible. The most important trick of all is focusing almost entirely and exclusively in the negative liminal spaces. The camera of Skinamarink never looks at the people it is about (primarily two children and briefly two adult parents); you barely get a glimpse of their faces, once each, later in the film, and never of the dad and mom. The camera instead shows you the odd corners of the room, especially the ceiling, or the corner of the area away from whatever is happening. It may infer action from noise or occasional motion or shadow, but its deliberately choosing to never actually show you anything that is actually happening. It is designed to create an unnerving sense in the viewer, by focusing entirely on these negative spaces where no film would ordinarily ever reside except for the barest of moments for effect; in Skinamarink, it lingers entirely and exclusively in those spaces.

The film's story is minimalist, barely there. A house, a dad, a couple kids, a mom who is inferred not to be there but later briefly is. We only see "action" on two occasions, through the eyes of the children, breaking the otherwise persistent focus on negative spaces. The implication is the house is under control of something malevolent, and the kids are trapped with it. No explanations or plot are forthcoming beyond the most rudimentary. There are really only about three "things" of note that happen. The rest of the film is all about ambience and a unique form of don't show, don't tell, only imply, until about the last 10 minutes of the movie when it's focus doesn't really change....but the negative spaces end up being "where things are happening."

The entire thing is jarring and unpleasant to watch. Many reviewers on Shudder liken it to evoking how they felt as children scared of the dark, which is interesting. Many others were just annoyed the movie tricked them into thinking it actually was some sort of normal movie....woopsie. For me, it was a bit of a slog, because it felt like it was using about 30-40 minutes worth of tricks over a whopping hour and forty minute run, which is insane. But I won't say I regret watching it; it's a unique experience, and if you're into the making of films and cinematography I imagine this is a very interesting experiment to watch in action.

My biggest complaint is that the artificially generated film grain imperfections are both distracting and nauseating. With the film length it becomes easy to notice patterns of repetition in the generated artifacts, and that proved distracting. I kept wondering if my experience of the film would shift from discomfiting unease and annoyance to genuine interest if it simply removed the film grain effect, but I also felt that the reason it was there was to create deliberate optical uncertainty, to make the viewer's mind keep searching the imperfect darkness for things, and, of course, to make the viewer discomfited and uneasy. Still....I'd love to see what this movie looks like with the film grain off in most shots.

From the perspective of judging this as an experimental surrealist/horror genre film, it accomplishes what it sets out to do, though it is arguably nowhere close to the level of eerie unpleasantness that I found a movie like Eraserhead to be (the only film I can think of offhand to compare it to). If you want to see a movie with the eye of a film enthusiast or to study their technique, I think this is absolutely worth it. If you like experimental films in general, Skinamarink won't disappoint. But if you want to see an actual movie with something amounting to a plot, characters and events that happen, Skinamarink is probably going to make you a little mad. So....Solid B- from me for an art film, but don't see it with any other expectations.


Thursday, February 23, 2023

The Clinical Methodology of Delta Green

 I've been a big fan of Delta Green since its original appearance in the late nineties. The Delta Green concept has always been an interesting treatment on what a mythos-burdened world might look like if there was the usual level of Cold War era espionage layered on top of the very real threat of the occult and the mythos. To one degree or another I have used its concepts in my own Cthulhu campaigns for decades now, and recently I took the time (while laboring through the latest round of "what sort of virus is plaguing the household this week?") to read the newest edition's Handler's Guide cover to cover. 

I got reasonably far in when I began to experience a weird sort of fatigue, not so much with the subject but with its endless precision in presentation. I realized that Delta Green as a foundation for framing the mythos in a modern, espionage laden context, is really useful, but that the concise and rigorous approach of the latest edition has created an elaborate narrative arc that can be quite at odds with that most important element of the Cthulhu Mythos that I feel must as a necessity permeate any good campaign, that being the utter and total lack of understanding of the unknown, and the unclassifiable depths to which the mythos will degenerate a human understanding of the world and how it functions. Delta Green is all about "scientists with guns" to use a phrase in its early era (P4), seeking to understand it enough to classify and destroy it. In the process of doing so, the organization develops a lot of clinical methods of interpretation and approach. 

There's nothing to criticize about this presentation, of course, and it fits the mythos well, but as one reads further along it becomes clear that Delta Green at least as presented is a game for the sort of players who might engage with and enjoy Call of Cthulhu more if the world worked in a more rigid and discernable fashion than the universe of the Mythos as a whole tends to work. A good example is the Dreamlands, an element of the Cthulhu Mythos which is a bit incongruous in some ways with other aspects of the setting. When looked at from the view of Lovecraft in his time the elements of the Dreamlands can fit just fine, and indeed they work well in many pastiche homages for decades afterward as a weird and mysterious element that is somehow coterminous with if not directly embedded in the more conventional madness of the Old Ones and their inscrutable natures. In Delta Green, however, the setting of necessity parses out the information in a manner consistent with an espionage agency which is identifying features and elements as clinically as possible.

Again....nothing wrong here, it makes sense. But, it got me to thinking: the approach Delta Green takes, even when it highlights how certain members in the field have gone mad, seems to lean heavily into a certain kind of player type for the game. These are player types I encounter when running the game on occasion, usually guys with some background adjacent to or occasionally in the military, who find the idea of Call of Cthulhu fun but argue semantics on things like sanity checks and whether or not these would really be called for when presented with grisly content. The conversation often boils down to, "I think I'd have seen worse in Afghanistan," vs. me as GM saying, "But nothing in Afghanistan warps your perception of existence just by looking at it."

Delta Green's current iteration (as I do not recall this phenomenon being evident in its original books in the 90's) seems to lean more in to this notion that one can, if you are clinical and precise enough, analyze and understand the conceits of the mythos through proper analaysis. I am not entirely clear on whether or not this is fully intended....and as I continue to read through it I may come to different conclusions, so this may only be the first part of my discussion, but it did get me to thinking that Delta Green in its pure form may be the better "fit" for those guys I have gamed with who get into this sort of argument about how and why sanity as a mechanic works and what it represents. There's a "grounded, reality-based, I was or wish I was in the Army" kind of mindset which conflicts with a more literary view, in which the notion is that "sanity in this context represents something you can't experience in the real world because the mythos are functionally destructive to all of our perceptions of what reality is."

Delta Green likes to identify this through various terms which --again-- make perfect sense for its interpretation of the genre, such as hypergeometry as a term to define what amounts to magic, but it is interesting to consider that the game may choose to cater to an approach where, without that sort of analytical approach, some players might not otherwise be willing or able to embrace the concept that the "unknown reality" of a universe with the mythos is simply too damaging to a normal mind on exposure not to lead to an erosion of sanity. That merely interacting with things that exist across more dimensions than our own can be debilitating. 

I don't know where I am going with this, just yet....as I plow through the second half of the book my view on how it handles the matter might change, so probably a part two to come!

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Quitting The Kickstarter Grinder

 I'm trying to give up Kickstarter. I bet a lot of other people are as well, and some may even succeed. The problem is not with the product, most of the time, but the timing. I've had some generally successful backings over the years, and even the ones which stretched out well beyond their due dates eventually fulfilled, usually with a decent product at the end. But....as there is always a but.....

Sometimes that amazing game you are really enjoying in 2020, which has a Kickstarter that comes out for a product with a promised 2021 release date that gets pushed back to 2022 or beyond? Yeah, it may not be the game you care as much about two years after you successfully engaged with the initial product.

Or maybe it is, but the perpetual tardiness just generally makes the final product less and less viable over time as you wait patiently for something to play, only to find other actual real live games coming out that end up fulfilling the goal here while the Kickstarter languishes.

 Maybe the product seemed cool and came out, maybe even on time or early, and you suddenly discover that the hype was much more promising than the delivery. I have several in this category, where the finished product once received was just a huge helping of "m'eh" as I realized the idea of it was so much better, and indeed that idea still exists, waiting for a better form of fulfillment.

There's also the "Rich Guy" Kickstarters out there. The ones which plan to produce 1-3 years' worth of product in a single showing, and ask you to fork up hundreds of dollars up front. These can be the worst, because you are asking to commit to funding a game with many products before you know you're really going to be happy with it. Quite a few of these KSs exist, and I have skipped many of them. These days I skip even ones I know I'd like, only because I am reaching an age of elderly enlightenment where FOMO no longer concerns me. The new Adventures in the Cypher System on Backerkit, for example: I am confident I can end up getting the books out of it that I want eventually, when they are actually out, without forking over a few hundred dollars now or running up a credit card. 

Gamers love to get a new thing, especially one catering to their niche, and even better if it seems to come with a heap of support, which we love to death. But Kickstarters are in some ways a terrible burden on the industry, because they depend entirely on the diehard fans who have more money and less sense to back them and then fund lavish projects that ultimately go nowhere outside of the people who backed them. And if the company does print enough product for more than just the backers, will that product have any legs outside of the core fanbase that backed it? Can it ever generate a fanbase if the product is only ever really aimed at the diehards? 

What happens when a company decides it only produces new product that it can guarantee is a sure thing through what amount to preorders, anyway? Now the focus on product is not on "what will get people to buy this?" but rather "What can we promise people that will get them to buy it?" That seems like a bad deal for everyone involved. (Edit: Okay this sounds pessimistic; right now what happens is you get some very focused, niche level products that are often excellent for what they do. But, just as often, we get products that maybe are so niche and so specific that one wonders if anyone, anywhere, is actually playing them. I can think of a dozen such Kickstarted products right now).

Not all Kickstarters must be quit, though. A few are really good, they announce their product release on the platform mainly to get traction going for preorders on an already finished product. Some use the KS to generate revenue to pay for decent art and editing. The zine scene also uses this wisely. Not always (I have evidence now of a few zines that are in KS hell right now) but others are quick and timely on their release with plenty of consistent content (Hexagram for TFT from Steve Jackson Games is one I back consistently, for example).

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Black Flag Playtest! Aye, They've Pirated the SRD, Matey!

 Well, I mean I don't know what I was supposed to expect, but the Black Flag Playtest document (which right now is 12 pages of basic proof of concept stuff) seems to follow the SRD 5.1 pretty closely until it doesn't, which is when ancestries and talents suddenly come in to the picture. It basically means we have High Elves as cloud elves now, and wood elves are grove elves, I guess? Couldn't wood elves still exist apart from D&D IP, seeing as how Tolkien formulized them in the first place?

There's not quite enough here for me to have any real opinion, but I do have a chance to see what Kobold Press is doing against another revisionist competitor....the era of Officially Licensed Fantasy Heartbreakers, I guess; and that competition is Level Up! A5E RPG from EN World, which does a really good job of taking base 5E and fixing everything anyone ever found even vaguely wrong with it. 

That said....I can see where Black Flag is going, and I like it, too. The two backgrounds layer up a bit in nice ways. The talent system is a way of codifying stuff that previously was best considered "class abilities" into something that might have more universal applicability in design.

It's going to be interesting over the next couple of years. The monsters were quiescent in their pens, but the handler got a bit drunk one day and became very abusive. Now the monsters have broken loose and roam free, and the handler is no longer hidden behind his safe walls. 

About the only downside I can see is also an upside: everything here looks like its meant to sustain compatibility down the road across multiple related systems. It's meant to woo D&D fans by being close enough to D&D in whatever incarnation to feel comfortable. 

Maybe, one day, WotC will be publishing a licensed "Worlds of D&D" campaign expansion for Black Flag. Who knows! Probably not, but it would be really amusing if it got to that point.

The downside of all this is, of course, the fact that the days when a much wider range of RPGs that are strange, interesting and different all appear to be dwindling behind us. At some point soon (and in some ways already) it will feel as if 95% of all RPG content is somehow 5E compatible or derived or otherwise based on some variant of D&D. In reality while we still have some different stuff out there, it's getting ever so less common to see new, interesting alternatives on the market. I guess that's what the zine scene is for, these days, but even it suffers from its own problem with imitation and flattery.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Tales of the League Universe XVI: Miscellany (Cypher System)

 Here's the remaining less-developed notes on various characters, the old league before it fell apart, and some villains. Mostly used by me to track and draw from for spontaneous encounters and events, and to set up the players to be the new League members:

The League Universe – Miscellaneous Characters and notes

Other Active Current Heroes and Villains:

Bowman 13 – Level 7 archer

   Little is know of Bowman 13, who wears a gray and brown suit, fully covered mask, and the number “13” stenciled on his shoulder pad. He seems to have a major beef with the Mystech Corporation, which insiders know is devoted to harvesting technology and magic into a hideous form of technomancy for profit.

Tranzor – level 8 artificial construct

   Tranzor was a fully sentient robot built decades ago who continues to serve his aging creator, Doctor John Travis as best he can. His beryllium and steel mesh armor makes him especially difficult to damage, and his array of particle beam and non-lethal weapons make him excellent at dispatching enemies. He can shape shift in to a speedy vehicular form.

Marylin Monroe – Level 6 alien

   Marylin Monroe is a shapeshifting alien not related to the Wraiths who seeks to acclimate to human society, but can only emulate from images such s photographs and pictures, not actual people. Marilyn took on the guise of a favored human, who’s shows had only recently arrived at her homeworld, and now tries to make her way in life trying not to draw much attention (despite her appearance) while getting sucked in to weird shenanigans. In her alien form she is a fast runner with claws and can see in multiple spectra of light.

Obsidian – Level 7 metahuman master of shadow energy

   Little is known of Obsidian, who may be from a dimension where light does not exist, but she can bend light and manipulate shadows at will.

Tempest – Level 7 metahuman (arcane), master of hallucinations and body horror

   Tempest can twist and turn any biological form into an abomination, and with a snap of his fingers can undo all….if he so desires.

The White Rabbit – Level 6 methahuman (arcane), induces hallucinations, speedy, Tempest’s sidekick

   A twisted being from another realm who tasks heroes with other dimensional adventures!

The Final League Lineup:

Allegedly died in 2009 atomic explosion in Afghanistan. This was the passing of the old league. As a result, those who survived moved on, and the path was opened for a new, young group of adventurers to be called to arms when the time was right by Dr. Futurity.

American Agent (Level 8)

Health 80, Damage 8 or 14 melee/thrown, Armor 2 natural, Move long

Shifts: 3 Strength, 2 Resilience, 2 Dexterity

Modifications: Might defense level 10, Speed Defense level 10

Said to be the cloned replica of Captain Liberty, American Agent was the loyal servant of the US government from top secret Project Omega until they went public with him as the face of the new League (sometimes called the US Leage) in 2004. He was leader of the team, which carried out missions of national urgency, until they fought the Taliban metahumans to a standstill and failed to stop an atomic warhead from going off in Afghanistan in 2009. He was inside a bunker during the event and some of his remains were found and taken by Project Titan to forge the new Atlas. Rumors that a new clone has been created of American Agent are currently floating around, but if this is true its being kept under Project Omega wraps.


Alan Lord and Steel (Alan Level 5, Steel Level 7)

Alan Lord (Human/Akari hybrid, Health 20, Damage 5, Range short, no armor; 3 shifts Intelligence)

Steel: Health 80, Damage 16 melee/thrown, Armor 6 (3 armor plus 3 natural), Move long, flying

Shifts: 3 Strength, 3 Resilience, 1 Dexterity

Modifications: Might defense level 10, Speed Defense level 8

Alan Lord of Lord Industries is a billionaire philanthropist who was roped into the new US League project by Serena Strane, an dhe utilized his tech resources to aid in dramatically improving the material technology available to the new League, including the creation of the AI Elena from Akari tech.

Alan’s secret is his access to Akari technology. The Akari Empire has close ties to Lord’s family, which is actually Akari in descent, and have been living on earth for many generations. He used this tech to advance his own specific interests when he reconnected with Empress Tan’Sari in 1998, and learned of his family’s legacy. Since then Alan Lord has used this for his own gain.

The Rest of the Old League:

Bluefire (Sam King) – deceased, a metahuman who could control a blue-tinged energy he believed was the spiritual essence of a dead species.

Foxtrot (name unknown) – MIA, a former black ops Navy SEAL who took super soldier serum, presumed dead. Had uncanny dexterity and stealth abilities.

Blast (Lisa Williams) – MIA, a metahuman with augmented energy release abilities, possible escapee of Mystech experimentation. Thought to have been killed in blast.

Twister (Mitch Thurn) – MIA, a metahuman who could control the weather and summon tornadoes. Believed killed in the 2009 blast.

The Captain (Cpt. Sam Thomas) – MIA, presumed dead, a metahuman soldier who underwent Project Omega’s superhuman treatment, and came out the other end sane. Was second to American Agent in positional authority, evidence of his remains found at the 2009 blast site.

The Liberty League (90’s to early 2000’s Era):

Dr. Futurity (on rare occasion)

Phantom Ace (Winston Carruthers, summoned ghostly machines; retired)

Blackstar (Anna Grace, controlled the power of the black star; whereabouts unknown)

Arbalest (reformed era, post-prison/Project Omega)

Starnova (Marina Kustovikya, now retired in Russia; suffers from debilitating cancer and lost star power)

Wire (Drake Sloan, went rogue in 2004 after disbanding and is believed to work as a merc now)

Crimson Spear (Assundro of the Akari Empire; thought killed by Wraiths during the 2003 Eclipse Invasion)


Friday, February 10, 2023

Tales of the League Universe XV: Zullah (Cypher System)

Zullah is my tribute to Gorilla Grodd and Monsieur Mallah of DC fame:

Zullah the White Ape

Huge augmented white ape male – Level 6

Motive: To be free and to free his brethren, as well as grant them intelligence; to forge an empire of the apes (in Minnesota).

Environment: Zullah disliked the jungle privately and prefers the city.

Health: 36

Damage Inflicted: 13 melee fists

Armor: 1 point hide

Movement: short (on foot) long (climbing)

Modifications: +2 shifts Strength (+6 melee damage and throwing; Might Defense Level 8), 1 shift Resilience (+1 recovery and armor), 2 shifts Intelligence (Level 8 Intellect Defense Rolls; knowledge, science and crafting tasks)

Powers: Zullah is augmented with natural intelligence and speech abilities as well as profound strength thanks to a mishap caused by Tempest and the White Rabbit eight years earlier.

   Zullah seeks freedom, as well as a desire to elevate his fellow simians and found an empire that rules over man. He has been in and out of incarceration, but most recently was freed due to animal rights activists which had him moved to a comfortable habitat from which he found escape to be a simple matter. He now plots ways to change the climate of the earth to a hothouse while preparing for his empire of beasts in Minnesota.

 This wraps most of the defined content I had in my "campaign precis" for the Eschaton Plot. Next up are some notes and interesting bits.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Rise of the Return of Live Gaming!!!!

 I've been letting the Cypher Supers stuff dominate the blog for a bit, but I have plenty of non-Cypher Supers stuff to blog about, too. Specifically: we returned (again, and again!) to live gaming once more for the Wednesday night group. It was very cathartic, and was a reminder once more of how much is "lost in translation" with the online VTT experience. Our preferred live venue is a local game store (Ettin Games) which has some very nice play space and isn't too noisy. 

It was, in many ways, necessary, for lots of reasons....the online experience was just clearly not cutting it. It was also nice to see old friends in the flesh once again, and to ...you know....move around and walk outside and stuff. The pandemic is over, after all, and Covid is now just a fact of life like the flu, a thing we must live with, so being able to once more participate in RL was an immense stress reliever.

Sure, we started this a few months back then got rudely interrupted by everyone catching Covid, but this time feels a little more permanent, like we're all well and truly ready to make this happen. We've all weather Covid at least once now (some two or even three times) and just about everyone is up to date on vaccines and such, so it seems unlikely we could be any more prepared. Either way, it's sort of worth it....the ability to gather online and try to be heard on substandard communication channels is simply no replacement for actually just being in the same room.

Anyway, the plan now is permanent live game Wednesdays going forward. Now I just need to figure out how to make that happen on Saturdays again! Unfortunately on Saturday night we do have players who have health conditions that make them worried about going out in the wild, so that does necessitate VTT for that game. I have, however, been considering the possibility that maybe I can run a live afternoon game which incorporates my son, and maybe some other friends and family, as he is at an age now where he actively enjoys the hobby and wants to be more and more involved. He and I recently ran some short test sessions of Level Up! A5E RPG which were extremely fun, we basically replicated a bunch of Mortal Kombat characters and let them loose, and we're quite grokking the A5E vibe. I need to write more about that later....but the idea for the moment is maybe doing a live Level Up! session on Saturday or Sunday in the early afternoon. Need to go by the game shop and see what their attendance looks like in the day time. 

Tales of the League Universe XIV: Atlas (Cypher System)

 Atlas has some inspiration from Suicide Squad, Deathstroke, and others. Predates Task Force Z, one of my more favorite recent DC titles:

Atlas (formerly American Agent, alias Rick Collins)

Human male, metahuman enhanced - level 8 (24)

Motive: Atlas has been restored by Project Titan to be their flagship agent. Composited from the DNA remains of American Agent, Atlas appears to be motivated only to pursue the desires of Project Titan to find and retool metahumans as living weapons of war.

Environment: Wherever Project Titan needs Atlas on the ground.

Health: 80

Damage Inflicted: 17 melee

Armor: 6 points (armored suit plus 3 natural)

Movement: short

Modifications: 3 power shifts in Strength (+9 melee and thrown damage, Speed defense roll level 10);  Recovery 3 (+3 recoveries and armor)

Powers: Atlas is reconstructed from the remains of the American Agent, grown in a vat after a massive level of structural damage caused by radiation was reversed using Tachyon Inversion techniques. The result is a perfect clone of the American Agent, wrapped in the metal armor of a Titan soldier. He retains super strength and super regeneration, and it is possible that he may, thanks to the tachyon inversion treatment, may retain remnants of his old mind behind the deep level conditioning he has been subjected to.

Atlas works now as a single-minded agent for Project Titan, the flagship example of what the top secret organization can accomplish in its war to enslave and turn metahumans into regenerable, obedient super soldiers.

Right now they are separately investigating the disappearance of Agents of Steel, though they don’t know the reason for the disappearances….behind the scenes Titan’s leader, Golam Escher, believes Eschaton may be at work. He is also keen to recover the most recent new metahumans identified by the project as worthy of “recruitment.”

NEXT: Zullah!

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Tales from the League Universe XIII: The Organ Taker (Cypher System)

 More cosmic horror and Alien inspired madness intrudes in the superverse!

The Organ Taker (Xenoform Extromophile)

Alien Monstrosity Level 6 (18)

Motive: steal organs, lay eggs, propogate species

Environment: The depths of space normally, but will arrive on the tail of a comet. In this case, the Organ Taker was released by Wraith Agents in New York to sew chaos.

Health: 30

Damage Inflicted: 6 (claws) 12 (stinger)

Armor: 2 points natural

Movement: short (running) or long (flying)

Modifications: 1 shift Dexterity (acrobatics, initiative, movement, speed defense) with Speed Defense Level 7, Resilience 2 shifts (Might Defense Level 8; Armor 2); 2 shifts stinger attack (Speed attack level 8 and +6 damage)

Powers: Organ Taker is a particularly dangerous alien from the Gamma Reticuli system which manages to release egg-like spores into space that can ride on the tails of comets for millions of years before hatching. The Wraiths use them as seed weapons, to devastate local civlizations by dropping one into the midst of an unsuspecting population. The Organ Taker is the nickname given to one which is rampaging through New York right now, stealing bodies and laying eggs in them. The Organ Taker is also a parasitic mimic; it can take a host form, steal its DNA, and then masquerade with alarming accuracy as the host, including voice and mannerisms. This illusion requires a Level 6 Intellect check (18) to penetrate, although some tech may assist in identifying the clever simulation for what it is; the Organ Taker only “appears” to be the person in speech, look and manner….it cannot improvise outside of the scope of what it absorbed. The current one in New York is imitating a butcher named Leon Corinsky, who works at a butchery in the north end.

When an Organ Take steals the body of a fresh victim, it actually sprays egg-like spores into the torso, which rapidly devour the organs and then grow to become egg-like entities which then mutate into tiny versions of the adult. They leave the body behind and then move to dark places (like the sewers or subway system) to build nests and hunt for more food to grow. Over time, the monogendered species can grow exponentially if left unchecked. Each “laying” can lead to 2-3 hatchlings.

Organ Takers look like eight limbed monstrosities with large, plated heads filled with jaws and eyes, and wide, gossamer wings on seemingly slight exoskeletons; their bodies are better adapted to low and zero gravity environments, but they rapidaly adapt with each new generation to the environment they develop within, and consume DNA from their host to maximize their adaptation. They seem to be of animal intelligence but can mimic the speed of their host victims with alarming clarity.

NEXT: Atlas!

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Tales from the League Universe XII: Sable Fury (Cypher System)

And now for a Sable Fury, a merc with Moon Knight inspirations!

Sable Fury (alias Cheranda Kumina; possessed by spirit of Makeda, Queen of Sheba)

Mystically Enhanced Human Woman – Level 7 (21)

Motive: the mercenary that is Cheranda seeks wealth and fortune, but the spirit of Makeda pushes her to recover power and restore the lost might of ancient Sheba

Environment: Sable Fury appears anywhere that there is money and power to be won through force

Health: 70

Damage Inflicted: 7 normal attack; 16 with monoblades

Armor: 3 points (2 combat gear, 1 natural cyberweave)

Movement: long (she is quick)

Modifications: 3 power shifts in longsword attacks (monoblades) for +9 damage; 2 shifts Dexterity (movement, acrobatics, speed defense, initiative) for Speed Defense 9 (27); 1 shift Recovery (+1 recovery roll, 1 natural armor.

Powers: Sable Fury is possessed by the spirit of Makeda, the Queen of Sheba. She is also a cybernetically enhanced former assassin for the Nation State of Aranda, which equipped her with the best cyberware Mystech had to offer. She is extremely fast, quick to recover, and can generate two monomolecular blades which slide from containers in her forearms. The blades are devastatingly sharp and can cut through almost anything.

Sable Fury was Cheranda Kumina, a professional soldier and merc who volunteered to be cybernetically augmented in a special program run by General Haram of Uganda, the warlord responsible for so much violence in central Africa. On one mission she was sent to southern Saudia Arabia to recover what was believed to be holy relics of power, and instead discovered a tomb to the Queen of Sheba. The spirit of the ancient queen took possession of Cheranda and for a time she lost control. As Makeda, Sable Fury sought to retake her kingdom, forming a large army of PMCs and guerillas to fight North African and Saudi forces. During this conflict she met Arbalest, working to defuse the conflict, and had a brief affair with him before he realized that she was possessed by the spirit of Makeda, and aided in freeing Cheranda of the curse. Cheranda was not so happy with Arbalest, though thankful to have regained control of herself thanks to the Lion totem she wears around her neck. The war continued, but Sable Fury sought her own way afterward, though Makeda’s attempts to influence her host continue.

NEXT: The Organ Taker!

Monday, February 6, 2023

Tales of the League Universe XI: Arbalest (Cypher System)

 One of my original creations, Arbalest is what might have happened to Speedy if he'd watched Green Arrow get murdered and had a Jason Todd level mean streak. The 80's edition of Arbalest was young and bitter, this is a middle aged edition of Arbalest, now old and bitter, but he serves as a reluctant patron to any aspiring PCs:

Arbalest (current alias Dale Colt)

Human male with enhanced training – Level 7(21)

Motive: hunt down criminals, exact justice; mellowed from his early years as a killer vigilante

Environment: New York mostly

Health: 70

Damage Inflicted: 7 (fists, ordinary shot); 16 (any arbalest, crossbow or bow)

Armor: 2 points armored suit

Movement: long (Arbalest is quick)

Modifications: 3 shifts in arbalest attacks (+9 damage, Speed Defense Level 9); Accuracy 1 shifts\ (Speed Defense 8 all attacks); Healing 1 (+1 recovery roll)

Powers: Arbalest is a naturally trained vigilante. At age 52 he is getting old and slower, but is still considered one of the world’s best shots. He is unaware of the fact that some of his unusual current health stems from a nanite injection from his ex-wife, the retired Silver Fox. His daughter is the new, young Silver Fox.

Arbalest began as the adventurous young sidekick to Captain Liberty in the early eighties, but when his mentor was killed by a gang of criminal supervillains he went mad with vengeance and began to systematically hunt down the villains responsible and execute them with his trademark arbalest. Arbalest eventually was captured and spent time in a maximum security prison before being released as part of the Gvernment’s Project Omega program, where he worked as a black ops agent for three years before his sentence was commuted to time served and he was released. He spent the later nineties in private industry, joining FOX Corp and meeting, then marrying the retired Silver Fox before they had one child, the new Silver Fox. In 2002, Arbalest briefly returned to working as a vigilante when a rise in New York super crime led to pleas from former allies and friends to help stop the tide. He briefly rejoined the Liberty League before it closed shop for a time, and then continued on and off as an adventurer even after his divorce with Silver Fox. Arbalest eventually went international, working to aid guerillas in overturning corrupt regimes in third world countries. He later met Sable Fury, and may have had another child with the African Warrior Queen before disappearing for several years, only to resurface as a street-level vigilante once more in New York.

NEXT: The Sable Fury

Friday, February 3, 2023

Tales of the League Universe X: The Legend (Cypher System)

 My tribute to the cursed immortal....not too long ago the New 52 actually revealed my fave, The Phantom Stranger, to have exactly this origin (give or take a few details):

Legend (current alias Christopher Long)

Human with Sorcerous Weapon (Arcane Origin) – Level 7

Motive: Pennance for ancient sins, determination to find his purpose as an immortal

Environment: The obscure corners of Earth

Health: 35

Damage Inflicted: 7 damage; 16 with the Spear of Destiny

Armor: 3 points plate

Movement: short

Modifications: +9 damage with the Spear of Destiny (16 damage total); +1 Intellect defense and skills (esp. history); +1 Might Defense and strength checks.

Powers: The Spear of Destiny, which is a Level 8 artifact; nothing less than that level can move Legend if he chooses not to be moved (he may still be injured). The spear can also reveal the true form of all within long range. Legend’s immortality is such that even if he is killed, he will reform in 1D10 months; if he is burned to ashes he reforms in 1D10 years.

Aside from the Spear of Destiny, Legend is immortal, and claims to be thousands of years old. Some believe he may have been Longinus, the soldier serving penitence for slaying Christ, but other stories suggest he is much, much older and may even have been identified as Achilles once. He claims to have been cursed in ancient times, and has walked the world all this time trying to seek a cure, or redemption.

Legend will readily aid the PCs in their quest, and his spear will quickly reveal the truth of the wraith in the midst of the Eschaton agents. Once Contessa Villaine is exposed, she will brag about the manipulations of the Wraiths with Eschaton to cause an intergalactic war.

NEXT: Arbalest

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Tales from the League Universe IX: The Wraiths (Cypher System)

 The Wraiths owe their existence to my long appreciation for the Rom Star Knight Comics of the early eighties. Loved that series! The newer reboot isn't half bad, either, FYI. 


Shapeshifting  Alien (Alien Being) – Level 5

Motive: Destablize the Star League; start intergalactic wars

Environment: Space

Health: 20

Damage Inflicted: 5 damage but can manifest the attacks of any number of creatures as well, including a favorite, paralytic poison (level 5 might defense or gain a cumulative -1 penalty on all speed defense and other speed actions)

Armor: none

Movement: short; can form wings to fly at long range

Modifications: Intellect Defense Level 8 to see through their impenetrable disguises.

Powers: Shapeshifting, usually tech gadgets as well.

Wraiths are shapeshifters from a distance star system that work to oppose and destabilize the Star League, which recently revealed itself to the Terran system when the renegade Centauri flotilla arrived in the Terran Kuiper Belt seeking asylum and permission to colonize the moon Titan. They are fleeing from the forces of The Devourers, which have taken their world.  The Wraiths are allied with the Devourers as mercenaries and are doing the bidding of the Devourer army led by the cyber-demon Inferno.

NEXT: The Legend!

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Tales of the League Universe VIII: The Eschaton Plot Part 2 - The Devil's Graveyard

 The Second Stage on the Eschaton Plot! For the full series, start at Part I and go from there:

The Eschaton Plot Part 2

The Devil’s Graveyard Stage 2, The Bleed: Dr. Holst (alias Quark), once freed, can get his ship working and escape in to the Bleed. He knows of the Devil’s Graveyard and explains that it can be reached from the mortal world via the Bermuda Triangle, actually. He explains that the Island is more an accumulation of everything that has ever fallen in to one of many “holes” in the Bleed throughout many universes. Why Long wanted to go there….he doesn’t know (he’s never worked with Legend before).

On arrival, in a graveyard of ancient ships and planes of multiple dimensions all cast in to a maelstrom of debris in zero gee, including a vast starship, with enough atmosphere bleeding in from multiple universes to be comfortable. Here the group will find Legend. He came to the Island to find out who tried to kidnap him; turns out, they attempted to nab him as well but he has a “Dimensional Anchor” in the form of his Spear….if he wills it, he cannot be moved, destabilized or phased. The creatures who disappeared revealed a sliver of the dimension they came from, though….the Devil’s Graveyard.

Legend has been hunting down the creatures ever since. He’s located their operations center, on a vast derelict starship which belonged to an unknown alien civilization in another universe called The Stain. With the PCs, he thinks they can break in and see if the missing Agents of Steel are within.

The aliens within are not aliens it all, it will turn out. The suits they wear are indeed gear of the lost alien civilization of the starship trapped on the Island, but in fact the ones wearing the armor are anything but. The “creatures” are actually agents of Eschaton, a top secret terrorist organization funded by the mad scientist called Saurian, a brutal humanoid reptilian specializing in transgenic modification. His desire is to facilitate an end to the peace talks with the UN envoys and the Centauri Flotilla which seeks permission to enter Terran Space. He is working with the Wraiths, devious assassins and shapeshifters opposed to the Star League who want a war to erupt between Centauri and Earth.

Saurian is not on the base but he could appear in a hologram to gloat. His agents are all genetically modified super soldiers with reptilian traits; the suits are stolen technology from the ship providing advanced armor and weapons. In the station, in a vast “holding cell” of what appears to be thick green glass, are the missing Agents of Steel, each transposed into the Green Space dimension by a device that Saurian’s troops have used to capture the team. The device itself is not on the ship…it lies in Saurian’s hands.

The plan is to get the ship working, use the device to bring it out of The Island space, and then have his men masquerade as Agents of Steel working with the UN to assault the Centarioids. The adventurers arriving will put this plan in to action faster, forcing Saurian to order his men to initiate the plan now to avoid a loss.

Agents of Saurian (5)

Like Elite Soldiers, but with 4 points of alien armor and weaponry. Includes a Level 8 polymorphic shifting tech which allows them to masquerade as the Agents of Steel, granted to them by the Wraiths.

The Lost Starship

A level 8 war cruiser from a different universe and filled with alien technology. If it were pulled from the Bleed it could make a fine base of operations!

The Phase Gun

A Level 8 device which can harness the power of the Bleed to phase targets from one dimension to another. A level 8 Intellect test will reveal how to reverse the gun’s effect to free the Agents of Steel from the Green World. 

There is one wraith on board: Agent Contessa Villaine of Eschaton is a dedicated servant to the cause of Eschaton. She will execute any traitors and seek to further the goals of the organization at any cost. She is secretly a Wraith.

The Final Plot: The Centauri Flotilla, Kuiper Belt

There are a number of ways to get here. If the group somehow goes to investigate the flotilla and never finds the Devil’s Graveyard, then they might arrive in time for the mysterious alien ship claiming to be sent by the UN to attack the Centauri diplomatic vessel.

The likeliest path is that the PCs get here on the ship, while it is transitioning into normal space to complete its mission. They may or may not have seized control, but the vessel itself is armed with a singularity cannon designed to fire weaponized black holes in to the flotilla and cause untold damage, all while broadcasting messages from Earth of war.

The best scenario would be to intervene before the ship ever has a chance, and at best show up to bolster the peaceful negotiations. Either way, should the PC succeed then the UN will commend these unknowns who arrived in an unexpected time of need. 

NEXT: The Wraiths!