Monday, September 21, 2015

[3.X] An Argument Against 5th Level Commoners

Fully fleshed NPC classes, such as the aristocrat or commoner, are a bad idea. This is obviously within the context of D&D 3.X, but the argument can feasibly be applicable to any level-based RPG.
By the nature of the beast, a level 3 Expert is better than a level 1 Fighter; more and better skills, higher base attack bonus, better saving throws, better gear, etc.
Games such as D&D posit that PCs are individuals who matter at the beginning of their career (level 1), and this is something that even ‘gritty’ settings do in practice if you look at the adventures described. This is something inherent in the genre.
This facet will be countered if you do not simultaneously posit that third level Experts are uncommon; and tenth level Commoners absolutely must be highly rare. If your typical man on the street is a plurality of levels higher than you, even with a sub-optimal class like the Expert, then your PC begins play as their cohort or squire. When orcs invade the town, you do not send out the PCs, you send out Billy the Roof Thatcher. The party of combines their martial training, bardic music, and mystic knowledge to augment the raw power of Dread Thatcher Billy.
Sure, your PCs will eventually be better than the majority of NPCs, at like level 6 or something. I strongly doubt your players are interested in roleplaying the years of apprenticeship and character building to be better than the guy who flips the switch for the Bat Signal (only it’s a guy with a trowel instead of Batman).
Now, rallying the peasants into a force that can fight back Team Evil is certainly cool, but that’s a completely different message from “Billy’s wife, Mary, can beat up your entire party with a wooden foot.”
What this means is that NPC classes need to exist on fewer levels. There is no reason for there to even be such a thing as a 10th level warriors or 6th level commoners. Simultaneously, NPC demographics need to be weighted strongly for the bottom levels.
In a personal plug for my own 3.X games, I have dumped the Warrior and Adept NPC classes as written for homebrew versions that are only five levels long and are implicitly faster to design than a PC class. The Commoner class doesn’t exist, and PC-races without class (hah!) get by with a single racial hit die and a simple list of ‘templates’ based on their livelihood. I will admit, due to time and such, I have not made a final decision on how to handle the replacement of Experts and Aristocrats.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

[3.X] How Not to Be Seen

This is a set of house-rules for stealth, which has traditionally been poorly written in d20 systems. Originally, this was designed for use in my Arcana Evolved campaign, but it remains applicable in regular 3.5, Pathfinder, etc. Please understand that I am not necessarily saying your game has bad stealth rules, but the official rules in your book are bad; which is a distinct difference not many notice, which itself is amusing in this context. The rules as written are bad, but it's essentially a guarantee that your campaign does not use them strictly as they are written, and in many cases you might not even realize house rules are in effect. This set up is technically the same process, but I feel having the caulking be clearly visible so consistency is better maintained.

Skill Changes

Hide & Move Silently are merged into one skill, Stealth. Spot & Listen are merged into one skill, Notice (Perception for Pathfinder). Modifiers originally tied to just Spot or Listen apply to Notice, using the greater of the two, so long as the sense can be used; so Spot bonuses do not apply against invisible targets, thunderstones negate Listen bonuses, etc.

Dice Resolution for Observer and Stealther

Stealth is rolled once for the entire scene. Taking a standard action gives the full result plus modifiers for one round. A move action gives the same result with a -5 penalty for the round. With just a free action, this penalty increases to -10. After a character is spotted from stealth, they are permitted a single reroll to their Stealth for the scene. 

Observers are presumed to be constantly taking a free action to "Take 0" on Notice, which gives a Notice result equal to their bonus. When they Observe, a move action, they get to roll normally for that round. An observer will only roll once for the entire scene, using the same result for all further Observe actions. They are permitted a single reroll to their Notice for the scene after they fail to beat the Stealth by 5 or less.

Compare results to the point-of-view of any potential observer. Stealth is impossible against someone directly observing you until line of sight is broken (or the Bluff check for a distraction to dive for cover). Changes to the DC based on the circumstances apply instantly, and can make a stealthy subject change to noticed by the observer. 

Effects of Stealth

Until the subject is noticed, the observer is unaware and flat-footed to the subject. If conditions change to make the observer aware, they remain flat-footed until the end of the action. Multiple attacks from a full-attack action do not all get the bonus (just the first); though if it's the start of combat for the observer, they remain flat-footed until their action as normal.


Notice ModifierObserver Status 
-1 per 10'Distance*
-10/1ft thicknessWall 
-5Closed door 
-5Distracted, full conversation or using standard action 
-5Intense sensory input (spotlight in face) 
-10In combat, Asleep 
-20Pinpoint subject with total concealment 
+10Observe, subject without cover or concealment 
+4Observe, knows who to look for 
-3Observe as swift action

Environment for Subject
x1/2Bright Light
x1/2Outdoor Terrain
x1/2Flat/Exposed Terrain

Stealth ModifierSubject Status 
-5Moving greater than half speed 
-20Attacking, running, charging 
-30Attacking observer 
+20Total concealment 
-20Carries light source, auto pinpoint 
+/-2Favorable/unfavorable conditions 

If a subject has total concealment, such as invisibility or no line of sight with the observer, then an observer can only roughly know their direction; pinpointing will give the precise square. If the subject is completely immobile, including no breathing, then the bonus from total concealment increases by +20 and the observer requires an observe action along with a 10 point penalty to their own stealth attempts. 

Use common sense applications toward sensory bonuses, such as bonuses to Spot not applying while asleep. 

Beyond Sight & Sound

Ripping off Pathfinder, Notice can be used for senses beyond Spot/Listen. However, the standards use a human baseline, which is rather abysmal and therefore doesn't require the level of detail the others do. If a sense is acute enough to be a special ability, like a bat's blindsense or a beast's scent; then they can use it as a normal sense (out to the range limit) with a +8 bonus. 

-10Stench of rotting garbage 
0Smell smoke 
10Determine if food is spoiled 
25Sense a burrowing creature underneath you 
15+caster levelIdentify the powers of a potion through taste


Sometimes the entire party needs to infiltrate a location, and some of them are incompetent at this. With a -5 penalty, all allies within 30' who follow the stealth leader uses the leader's roll before situational modifiers (such as size, actions, etc). 

Alternatively, everyone can make individual Stealth checks as appropriate, and the leader reduces his own check to boost their allies. For every 1 point their result is lowered, every ally within 30' gains a +2 bonus. The recipient's check cannot exceed that of the person taking the penalty.

Monday, August 24, 2015

[Pathfinder] Instigate Psychic Duel

Psychic Duels are a fun concept, and fill similar narrative roles to wizard duels and shapeshifter duels. It is therefore natural to see Paizo attempt to dip into this evocative trope, but they managed to be simultaneously too cautious and drastic in their design.

To be involved in a psychic duel, you need to either cast or fail a Will save against a 2nd level spell. You and your opponent are functionally dazed while you spend character resources (be it spells, ki, fatigue, etc) in an attempt to ultimately drain the others' HP, which transfers into the waking world. The minigame is complete and different from the other core mechanics, and I'm not impressed with it. The most potent aspect of this spell is that your friends can wail on their unresponsive body while you try to hunker down against their willpower, which makes this spell objectively worse than hideous laughter, which is the same level and requires the same saving throw.

The barrier to entry is simply too high and too niche to justify the complexity. If you retain the complexity, regardless of my opinion on its quality, then you need to make it easier to participate and therefore make the entire basis of psychic duels become a keystone in your supplement. If you keep the "You Must Be This Tall To Ride" sign in place, then the effect of the spell needs to be dramatically simplified; single opposed roll with duration/effects based on the margin of failure/success level of complexity at most.

Personally, I think there are only two options for stuff like Psychic Duels in this context.

Psychic Tug of War
Describe it as evocatively as you like. The tactical result is the same, you and your opponent have an effect you're wanting to inflict upon the other and spend some non-trivial amount of time struggling. Commonly, the effect doesn't matter and it's simply a means for a weaker character to distract the stronger while their allies run off with the Dark Lord's underwear or something. At its core, this should just be a die rolling exercise where the iterative nature gives a disproportional advantage to small differences in strength; make a roll and make a tick mark of some kind until one side runs out and gets hit. It's fast to explain, takes up little time in a fight scene that involves more than two people, and gives the player something to do rather than waiting until the fight's over. It's boring for scenes where everyone sits back and watches the fight because it's too simple, but the players not involved in a duel are going to be bored anyway and this way you can go through each round faster than regular combat.

Mind Bullets
Ignore the whole mindscape angle and simply make psychic combat an extension of regular combat. Derive some modifier from your mental stats to make a Psi-CMB or something and create new combat maneuvers with a psychic aesthetic, similar to the Dirty Trick from Pathfinder. Want to mimic that stare-down between two psychics? Make it a ranged grapple of some kind. Make access to the psychic maneuvers a trait and automatically accessible for psychic spellcasters. Create an entire category of feats and spells that expand, enhance, and broaden the capabilities of psychic combat.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Review: C°ntinuum RPG

OSSR: C°ntinuum 

Time travel is certainly a popular subject, but the nature of paradoxes is a mentally taxing subject, which is admitted even by most protagonists in fiction that uses it. There are many ways to handle time travel in your RPG, You can handle it the Dr Who way & get caffeine jitters from all the tea. You can handle it the way of Feng Shui & Chrono Trigger, where you can only travel specific distances that are temporally distant from each other. 

Or you can handle it the C°ntinuum way. 

The very first page is that of the four Maxims, your time-traveler pledge of alleigance, which your character is expected to memorize and be able to cite verbatim. The first maxim sets the stage for the temporal mechanics of the setting, which is built upon the foundation of self-enforced immutable time. Everything you know to happen becomes a fixed point in time that must be guarded against. The second maxim tells you to be a boot-licker with your future self when you meet them. Maxim three is your social contract stuff and reminder to keep notes. Maxim four is the rule of the Masquerade rule. Maxim five tells you to give up when it looks hopeless. 

Table of Contents 
This is a disturbingly short section. It's a sidebar on the credits page that takes up a third of the column, listing chapters and page numbers, and that's it. On the same page, we are informed that Denny is a Photoshop god. 

O. Introductions 
Fortunately, this is properly labeled. Unfortunately, it's start page and the Table of Contents don't match. There's also a column of monologuing thanks with increasing verbosity from each of authors. We are introducted to the idea that this is somehow a realistic view on human behavior; that if there's time travel, the most advanced version will be the one that disseminates among its users and the laws of time travel are just a social construct. 

I. Invitations 
Six and a half pages of intro story where the main character is introduced to time travel, followed by a generic outline of how spanners (slang for time-traveler) are offered to a choice between the blue and red pill. If they choose the red pill, everything fades to black with a mind-wiped training montage, waking up with the ability to teleport through space and time. 

We are then thrown into character creation. How the numbers for your stats work in actual gameplay will be covered later. The three attributes of Body, Mind, and Quick are established along with descriptions of the various levels (3 is average, 7 is max human). Body is largely obvious. Mind is described to include hand-eye coordination, perception, and mental acuity; yet the examples for each rank only care about your IQ. Quick is reflexes & concentration. 

Skills are described in Title & Rating. Title starts at Untrained and moves up to Grandmaster+. Rating is the title rank plus the skill's associated attribute. Therefore you can have Grandmaster and Novice have equal Rating if the lesser's Attribute is four points higher. 

Next is Character Points, which is just plain poor design; much like the sample character sheet page jammed here without warning. We'll ignore it and go straight to Benefits, which are like feats. You get one for free, and can buy up to two more with character points. Like feats, there's no real sense of balance when Double-Jointed is valued the same as having both Clairvoyance and Telekinesis. There is an optional rule to take a flaw Limit in exchange for more character points, which is even more swingy in terms of balance than Benefits, especially since you don't get to choose the Limit (2% chance for no arms, infertility, no actual limit at all, etc). 

Finally, you are given an arbitrarily large bank account managed by the accountant faction of time travel society that safely and wantonly abuses their temporal powers. And by large, I mean 1d100 to the power of four; I personally just rolled an account with 12 billion bucks in it. 

At last, we get to the core resolution system. This is a d10 roll-under system, with the base TN being your skill rating and natural 1s being auto-success. If you get a nat 1, you roll again to see if you get another nat 1, which turns it into a victory (critical for d20 peeps); which is MTP-level good unless it's for one of the few rolls that tells you what it will do. If die roll matches your unmodified Ability, then roll to see if you roll get that number again, which results in you owing an unknown spanner a favor as you succeed with obvious (yet hidden) assistance. While a natural 0 doesn't fail, you need to reroll to see if you get a second consecutive zero, which is a critical failure. 

DCs work by assigning a Title. If your skill outranks the difficulty by two ranks or more, don't bother rolling. This includes opposed rolls between people (that bed-ridden Master gymnast will wipe the floor with nearly superhuman Novice). This creates a perverse set-up where attributes are only minimally important in the face of skills. 

Like every other damn point-buy RPG, there are too many. You are only fully trained in a single specialization for each skill purchased (Novice for the rest) unless you buy it again for a different specialization. Grandmaster Rifleman? You're as good as a Texan with an SMG or pistol. So while it may *look* like there's just a rather large list of 30 skills to buy, there are actually dramatically more due to every still being like D&D's Craft/Knowledge skill. The average human is remarkably inept, and it's fortunate you get basic function skills (like your native language) for free. Skills are weirdly broad at the same time. Because you're fluent in a language for inherently are able to order a beer and find the bathroom in every culture at any point in human history. This weirdly placed broadness also applies to Locality Knowledge; you know which way it is to the grocer's anywhere and anytime

Assuming you roll you Mind score or less. 

Advancement is stupid. You need to keep track of every die roll, every couple dozen successful dice rolls resulting in an advancement. You can earn successful dice rolls for advancing your skill by spending a bunch of time training (Novice to Master at Quake in about 2.5 years). 

I. Invitations; fighting in a level playing field 


Initiative is static and works in weird IP arrangement. Each round is split into five initiative passes, in which you get (Quick/5) per round evenly distributed. Multiple actors in one IP go in order of highest to lowest Quick, ties are broken with a die roll. You are given 5 seconds to decide what to do, which is weirdly strict for a game that will undoubtedly be bogged down by tracking your timeline. I can't help but notice that the average person moves like 12' every 10 seconds if they sprint for the round; 30' if you change the rules for Athletics. 

Combat is, like many other things, completely not intuitive, and the example combat is written terribly. It's also surprisingly RLT. Through charts and arithmatic, the single die roll for your attack determines both whether you hit and how much damage you deal; which will likely take you out because about half the time, you go into shock. This mix of title and skill rating creates an interesting dynamic that differentiates between ranged and melee; ranged combat is against a 'static' DC, which means you mostly ignore the skill of your target for your target's results. Melee combat is based on opposed rolls, which means if one person is 2+ ranks higher than the other, then it is literally impossible for them to lose in a fight until they take damage from elsewhere. 

Next time, we cover Chapter II, Spanning. Or as I like to call it, How to be Mr Magoo Across Time & Space.

I. Spanning

While leaps better than WoD's fiction pieces of using indecipherable fonts, I don't fully understand why they feel the need to have the text entirely in italic AND written in coloured-in sidebars. We get it, it's not game text. 

We're given a summary of common terms and definitions at least a dozen pages after they've been used repeatedly, as well as a piece on verb tenses, going for the refreshingly simple approach of using Plain English with the context that the people in the conversation are time travelers. 

How time travel grammar is usually handled 

Time travel is quite simple. A beginning spanner can jump to any point within a 1 mile, and can displace a total of up to 1 year per day. They never materialize into solid matter, the worst risk is facing the wall when materialization, barring jumps into outer space or inside a reactor. DO NOT temporally displace more than your daily allotment, or you will go insane, in shock, or in orbit (do not pass Go, go directly to dead). If you're painfully lucky, you end up exhausted and without powers for ten days. 

Next, human history is weirdly split up into a dozen 'eras' labeled by the Zodiac. I see no reason why the Zodiac's used other than showing off their goth cred. The real message is we know what territories have been claimed by the three major temporal empires; Inheritors control the vast majority of the post-2000 AD future, the Antedesertium essentially controls pre-12000 BC, and PCs are part of the Societies that 'control' the in-between. 

Gemini Incidents are an annoyance, as portrayed in this game. You are required to cross paths with yourself 0-10 times at each level of time travel power, the time and behavior of your meeting your future self is decided and played by the DM. Don't forget Maxim 2 and grovel before your elder. This then becomes a Fixed Point, and you add it to your To-Do List. You technically get to be the elder later on to close the time loop, you don't get any actual free will in the scene and must act out the script given to you the first go-around. At least a faint idea of sense is given by forbidding the DM from making the elder die in front of the PC or cause a paradox. 

A casual mention is made about learning of your time of death, followed by a citation for later in the book (hell of a cliffhanger there). You are allowed to 'survive' being killed once by teleporting away just before you're splattered, adding death on your To-Do List, and put it off for two 'levels' before you come back to the moment you left. 


If you die before you're supposed to after doing this, your corpse frags into oblivion and anyone directly involved gets a point of frag. I'm not sure why this doesn't cause frag with all of the spanners whose futures you've already interacted with or been told about. There's also no explanation for how the bystanders get rid of this kind of frag, implying they're screwed for the rest of their life (unable to slipshank, advance in levels, etc). This is a frankly annoying bit of inconsistency with how temporal society/mechanics works in this game, especially considering the notekeeping they expect of the people involved. 

We now have a glossary/dictionary & an in-character story. 

At last, we're at the section of how the player is supposed to behave. 
You accumulate knowledge of future events in your life, which is called your Yet, that's added to your To-Do List; failure earns you paradox/Frag, and one of the Maxims is to abandon people who have 5+ Frag points. At arbitrary points in your personal timeline, you will gain a point of Frag, signaling that there's a paradox about to happen in your timeline that needs to be resolved. If you screw up, your social network of time travelers will handle it, up to and including the actions of Better-Than-You NPCs. This is as dis-empowering as it sounds. 

While you play, because the temporal mechanics are built on a foundation of self-enforced immutable time, you are going to be keeping notes. A lot of notes. How much time you've spent in any one area, what you did, what you experienced, where you traveled, when you traveled, how far you've traveled in space-time before resting, what you're going to do, when you're going to do it. Because at any point there's a contradiction, you get a point of Frag to resolve. This note-taking is ultimately the biggest failing point of the game. I've heard that the administrative burden makes Ars Magica look like Risus. 

You will be quizzed later 

Mundanes are implicitly immune to these concerns unless the spanner notices a contradiction by knowing their state in their future. This Schrodinger's causality creates a real disincentive for time travelers to pay close attention to the timeline, because the more they observe/interact, the more potential points of paradox. Hence my assessment that Mr Magoo is an ideal time traveler, with Eidetic Memory to make sure your DM doesn't get you with a forgotten fact. 

Your coterie troupe corner gets their bit of space-time to call their own, where you keep things in order, deal with your mundane relations, and get enlisted by Elminster (ie, level 4 spanners) for major events. 

An As/As Not is a point of time where a paradox threatens to unravel the universe. This is where your personal contribution is put in perspective. "The Continuum, with its uncounted vigitillions of spanners Up into the future depending on that event, always win in the end." 

The philosophy behind counter-frag is explored here, with surprisingly little in the way of examples. If an enemy Narcissist attempts to kill your grandfather, how the hell do you know when and where they're doing it? You just get a point of Frag and are told to solve the mystery. 

Advancing to the next level of time travel ability (Span 2), which increases your span range by an order of magnitude, requires various conditions and two months of player time. Better than the XP system for skill advancement, I'll give it that. Reaching Span 2 now permits you to actually partake in greater time travel society rather than just your tiny corner. 

II. Spanning; Span 2 & Fraternities

Once you've gone ding and your friends have gone 'grats!', you get yourself a bachelor pad separate from your old corner to get some privacy, informally add "fake own death" to your bucket list (or To-Do List depending), get a passport, join a club, etc. The club part is important, as they're essentially time travel trade guilds, as well as the White Wolf equivalent to clans and bloodlines. 

  • Antiquarians Props department and Indiana Jones hiring agency. 
  • Dreamers Specialists of the Dreaming skill, acting as both temporal telegram service and DM info-dump, with a New Age aesthetic. 
  • Engineers Repairmen & IT department. 
  • Foxhorn British game hunters that essentially act as the temporal armed forces. 
  • Midwives Matchmakers and relationship specialists. A morally dark faction by reminding the reader that they ensure fated relationships don't change, which includes keeping abusive relationships going. Also the Fraternity that made all Spanners legally forbidden from making babies with other Spanners. 
  • Moneychangers Bankers who handle all of the stock exchange manipulations that amateur time-travelers shouldn't be engaging in. 
  • Physicians Doctors and CDC. 
  • Quicker Time coroners. They scrounge up pieces of people who have been fragged into oblivion and take them into Cold Storage. 
  • Scribes Historians & script supervisors. 
  • Thespians Understudies for historical figures who have gotten killed before they're supposed to. It's almost implied that Hitler doesn't actually exist, and is just a series of spanners filling his role because he's become such a fixed point in time.

    II. Spanning; Span 3

    After the campaign's gone for three months and the entrance exam is passed, which includes getting your physical & life-extension done in the 22nd century, you get to be able to span 100 years and 100 miles each day. You get told what happened during that blacked out training montage that gave you your time travel powers. You also get the Book of To-Do for your newly assigned corner which explicitly makes NPC Span 3s functionally omniscient; something to keep in mind when you start out the game and have a Span 3 following you around.

    You now get to turn this around and be the omniscient spanner that trains the new time travelers, though you are unlikely to have as much free will as the DM did with their Span 3 because you'll be given a script and a pager from two Elminsters. You're also given a bunch of heavy reminders of the Five Maxims that you'll be drilling into the newbies.

    II. Spanning; Span 4

    Four months later, you get to the rank of Span 4. Now you can span a thousand years in a single day, and are given functionally unlimited life-extension treatments. They're also reminded that disrupting the history of nations & towns is like messing with someone's grandfather; and that Span 4s get to use them as the playing board for "The Greatest Game" (quotation marks and everything); the purpose to make their home nation/culture reach as far through time without paradox.

    Two things about this game, which is distinctly played only by Span 4s. First is that I'm simply dumbfounded that they didn't go with a chess motif here. Second is that history books kind of stack the deck; if you were born and raised in the Warm Springs Reservation, you are part of a cultural identity that didn't fully exist until 1938 & nobody is going to think it will be all that significant by 2220 AD. Meanwhile, the Chinese spanner is going to fvcking win. The basic rules of the game is that you do enough research/pedantry/sabotage to 'claim' mundanes as part of your Society (genealogy is the easiest). Once you've got enough points in the span (pun intended) of time allotted once you start, you win the Game.

    One can only hope this happens

    Instead of playing the Game, you can be one of the people in charge of a Fraternity for a couple centuries, do spywork against the other major Time Power, or be a Span 5's gofer.

    II. Spanning; Span 5

    You have now been playing this game for more than a year (14 months absolute minimum), and now are permitted to reach Span 5 and become one of the Exalted. Quite a bit of text is dedicated to describing how big and powerful Exalted are, how they can readily replace entire corners with identical copies, and how normal human history and its time travelers is more like a nursery to them.

    Aside from a very broad "protect the Continuum" job, Exalted war on the Antedesertium (the other primary time traveler society deep in pre-desert Sahara). Inheritors remain Better-Than-You and are casually revealed to be Roswell greys.

    Each additional level of Span requires five months of real time, approval from higher level spanners, and to be personally approached by an Inheritor for levels past Span 7.

    III. Struggling; Communication

    A major facet of Dreamspeak is revealed here, which the Dreamers fraternity has a corner on due to specialization; dreams don't cause paradox. The excuse for why does end up making them very subject to DM-fiat in terms of how important/true/valid the information you get from dreams is. Scenes in other peoples' dreams are generally controlled by the higher ranked skill, but dreamers can control their own body's manifestation unless severely outranked. Dream combat works like normal combat, but with no consequence other than waking up, unless Telepathy is used as a sneak attack (once the victim knows its 'real', they can choose to wake up). 

  • Scribes keep good records, maintain a postal service for time travelers, and evidently keep note of every Time Combat for spanners to reference.

    Languages are given a fair bit of detail on how you're going to screw up even within the last decade. The closest thing to a fix offered, other than relentless research and pedantry, is to require the player to begin every statement with "Tell him..." like you're playing Jeopardy (so just the pedantry). Not even Telepathy helps, as it just gives memories rather than the meaning behind them. There is the potential option for a babelfish, which is in the DM section.

    III. Struggling; Aquarian Skills

    We've got time travel, might as well throw in psychic powers of all sorts. Even the mundanes get them, though they don't get auto-success the way spanners do, and Inheritors are still better than you.

    Clairvoyance acts as wakeful Dreaming. Hypnotism makes you Merritt McKinney from Now You See Me. Telepathy can target anyone within teleport range and read/shield/wipe/suppress emotions and memories, and go Freddy if you also have Dreaming. Pyrokinesis is the kill button. Levitation eventually lets you fly at faster than crappy elevator speeds; while TK lets you target someone other than yourself, but under severe weight restrictions. The attribute requirements are extreme for beginners, and except for Hypnotism & Clairvoyance, it's impossible to be higher than a Novice. Long story short, psychic powers require some rather intense specialization; and we don't currently have an established method to get higher than Mind 7 (and thus higher than Novice). This is likely where a lot of the "I win" comes from higher ups, considering how potent these powers are.

    III. Struggling; Time Combat

    Time Combat is only really applicable to other spanners, which means only Narcissists are the only real opponent; and they're outnumbered and outgunned. They even call the Continuum (the faction the PCs are part of) "the Swarm" to show how doomed they are in a fight. Not that it's impossible for them to succeed at hurting you and escaping, but sufficient submissions to higher positions in the spanner network will eventually get all of the consequences undone. Not even Narcissists try to directly mess with Time Combats after they've been resolved, and neither should players. Because that will summon 1d10*1d10 spanners PER ROUND to stamp your face in for trying. Actual Time Combat is a series of specific moves called Stratagems, and inventing new ones is a detailed process of approval between game sessions. The design approach is actually quite clever. Amusingly, one of the established 'stratagems' includes straight up clocking them (pun intended).

    "Dude! That was Carl from the Thespians.

    The complexity is thicker than fog in a noir detective novel, and needs way better technical writing. For reasons solely of game balance, you can spend several months between rounds and not regain any Span. The various stratagems are interesting and look wonky at the surface since rounds don't have a time limit, especially since a RL time limit is placed on planning one's actions. One stratagem is just saying you'll clean up after the Time Combat, another can involve sleeping for a month. Strength of numbers is everything, just through the use of Isolate alone (saints above, I love these puns!). Another flaw is that I can't see anything stopping a Narcissist from getting all sorts of Oracle & Frume & Cobweb activity before smacking an unsuspecting PC with two Hit & Runs before they can do a thing. Despite a bunch of discrete rules and guidelines, fragging attempts are resolved w/a single die roll where 40% of the results are explicitly DM fiat.

    My first use of this meme, ever.

    III. Struggling; Narcissists & Lesser Dangers

    This seriously reads like a propaganda piece for handling Narcissists, which makes the piece kind of awkward to read. Narcissists are revealed to be agents of an enemy state that also has time travel capability, who send terrorist cells into our recent (last 8000 years recent) past, claiming to have a different knowledge of how time travel actually works. As they are depicted as cartoonishly misguided yet still able to control millennium of Earth with temporal capabilities that are outright unavailable to players, there's obviously something not being said here. The reminder that spanners can break any taboo they want (which mundanes are woefully incapable of preventing), so long as it doesn't create a paradox, certainly doesn't engender a healthy looking society.

    Rather than dealing with the whole sanity point math as seen in Call of Cthulhu, we go straight to a list of mental illnesses taken from your Psych 101 textbook and the suggestion that your player should get one if something traumatic happens (examples include Frag 4+, losing your legs, and having your lover be brutally murdered in front of you). On a strangely related note, do not drink and span, because it will mess you up.

    IV. Mastering

    At this point we're given hints of the kinds of adventures/hooks that players are subject to. Anal retention of notes, spontaneous revelations of paradox they caused that they now have to fix, etc. We're are told of the dreaded munchkin, and are advised to handle them by ignoring their accomplishments, w/NPCs heaping praise toward better behaved players. If you don't approve of an attention hog, let them spend six months training a skill and have the character fat, acne-ridden, and balding; or even slap them with 3 frag and then start Time Combat by unknown Narcissists. In passing, we're told that bored players are the DM's fault. We're also given rather standard campaign advise and a reminder that this is a game where PCs start able to perfectly teleport and travel through time, with continuity porn being their only limit.

    We're given a semi-random run-down of various elements of time travel, including a reminder the fake corpse idea I suggested isn't allowed "just because." We're also given a rundown of important skills and secrets for each of the Fraternities; the secrets are predominantly tech access, but some are legit secrets. The upper-tier Dreamers suspect dreams are another universe, and dances around the implication of how this is similar to Narcissist philosophy. Foxhorns have piles of Narcissist moles. Midwives understand that half-spanner children produce psychics. Quickers are extremely bigoted against spanners who were born before the 21st century.

    Next is the technobabble behind time travel. The ability is tied to the heart, brain, & spine; and DMs are encouraged to set spanners on fire if they try to time travel when any of these are damaged. You also accumulate 'natural' frag when exposed to radiation, including being within a week of a nuke's blast (in either temporal direction); and evidently all time travelers need to hop past axial shifts or die. Spanners turn into time travelling tachyons that make up the energy of the Van Allen Belts, & are fueled by solar radiation. Spanners, upon reaching Span 3, are informed of several random To-Dos that were technically revealed to them back when they were first made into spanners; which can be stuff like "you will become Exalted, no exceptions" to "people like you" to "you will be raped to death."

    More detail is given on various aspects of spanner culture, a couple NPCs, etc. We're also given a nice, thorough explanation that Inheritors are Better-Than-You grays with full-on flying saucers w/paradox engines. The Men in Black flail uselessly against the machinations of novice time travelers. More detailed powers available to Narcissists (and desperate PCs) at 6+ Frag, losing the ability to act or even exist.

    Rather than full adventures, we're treated to a pair of scenarios for each rank of Span the party can reach. The hook, the major concerns, and the 'surprise'. These are the first true hint of what adventures are expected to look like for a campaign. Span 1s investigate a time travelling serial murder accomplice & torture hedge fund managers. Span 2s get roped into three-way Narcissist Time Combats and thwart creepy stalker experiments. Span 3s stop under-cover medieval French court assassinations, weather a Narcissist gun fight that gets deus-ex machina'd by their own leader, and get involved in an Exalted Time Combat over a case of beer. Span 4s deliver an airplane to an 18th century BC Chinese warlord that's holding their friends ransom and deal with time-traveling paint that's messing with multiple corners.

  • V. Knowing; History as a Battlefield

    Next comes various ancient species in Earth's history. The oldest are jewelry loving iguanadons, then came temporally powerful hominids. Both of these races are too far back to realistically ever visit; even the Exalted need to travel for a subjective year to reach them one-way. A Dreamer nation is founded and protected about 45,000 years in the past in Australia. About 23,000 BC is a culture of people controlled by the Midwives where spanners breed amongst themselves (without causing a temporal apocalypse like the rest of text says would happen) into extinction. 

    Then comes the Antedesertium eras, with its Narcissist kingdoms and handful of fixed points of time in what is otherwise a quagmire of misinformation. Of particular note is the Scorpiod Era (16-14000BC), which was lightly discussed earlier as a violent piece of spacetime ruled by powerful Narcissist kings who send minions to the modern eras. This time period is riddled with enough radiation to make spanning here a bad idea, and is ruled by seven entities that can only be described as demonic temporal gods statted to be Better-Than-You; and have 16 lieutenants who are just plain highly powerful, and all of them wield magic items made out of fragged time travelers.Technically the Leonid Era is theirs as well, but it's more of a war-torn wasteland from all of the fighting. There does exist Atlantis, a high-tech city of spanners from the Continuum, where people live and the Council makes its decisions for the laws of spanner civilization. 

    We are also given a summary of the next century or two, which isn't terribly noteworthy. The section on 'real life' time travel is particularly useless, and you'd do better messing with modern science articles and a scroll through Wikipedia these days. 

    VI. Details

    Appendix A I wouldn't really call these "fallacies", but "misconceptions." It's just a list of various time travel tropes that don't apply to this game, without citing the obvious source for reasons I don't understand. We're basically told that it's not Back to the FutureDoctor WhoTime CopThe Time Traveler's Wife, etc. 

    Appendix B explains what an RPG is (bit late), and C is a series of tables to calculate what day of the week it is for whatever historical date you're traveling to. I have no idea where D through H is, because we go straight to G and its explanation on the more specific rules of the Greatest Game. 

    Final Thoughts 

    This game is a true Heartbreaker. It's not based on any established system, but it's got a cool hook (you are a time traveler!), and the Time Combat rules are actually good concepts. 

    The skill system is fairly bad. There are way too many, and the DCs are barely extant. Because of the dice mechanics, it's an uphill battle to know your chances of success, which makes the DM's work even harder. It manages to do better than a number of other systems at the social minigame by simply not having a diplomacy skill. The closest to a social minigame is Etiquette & Swindle, neither of which claim to be able to convince people to behave in a certain way. To top it off, there is not a single way in the game to raise your Body or Mind to 8+, which forbids access to the useful levels of the psychic skills and makes the statted entities unreachably Better-Than-You. Technically, DM Fiat exists for house-ruled tech to improve a PC's Body/Mind to higher levels, but that's not valid for review. 

    Combat is brutal, deterministic, poorly explained, and has too many charts to check off on during the process. 

    The absolute biggest flaws are gameplay and setting. Ars Magica attracts the kind of person who likes Logistics & Dragons, which most certainly exists (like me). But, I have yet to meet a single person who would like the idea of Continuity & Dragons; and this is coming from a regular on a forum that loves the idea of verisimilitude and self-consistency in their campaign setting. The inherent nature of time travel and the design of the rules encourage an ever-growing body of events each session that need to be cross-referenced at a moments' notice to ensure there's no contradiction, which is just plain boring. At least when people do this for Doctor Who or Star Trek, there's a fun story associated with it that you can regale your friends with. I can't necessarily advocate a good story out of this setting. Besides your own attention to detail, the only antagonists in this game are Narcissists, who are just political enemies with the same limits and powers as the players. Narcissists aren't even that well-developed, their plots either a selfish misunderstanding of time travel mechanics or trying to take out moose and squirrel. 

    This is probably about as deep as their characterization gets too 

    We're given hints that the temporal wars of the Antedesertium eras can be more impressive, as it is essentially flying saucers vs evangelion angels. But the numbers involved preclude the players from being more than railroaded set pieces.

    Saturday, September 14, 2013

    After Sundown

    After Sundown is a cooperative storytelling game that tells stories in the realm of horror. Players take on the roles of monsters out of horror movies or the humans who oppose them, while one of the players takes on the role of the MC – a combination referee, narrator, and roleplayer of last resort for antagonists and minor characters in the story.

    The setting of After Sundown is a world like our own would be if horror fiction had an element of truth to it. There really are monsters in the night and other worlds full of nightmarish horrors that bleed into the mortal world. But it is also set in a world which is decidedly modern, and that means modern sensibilities. The game's backstory sees history and mythology through a modern interpretation, and adopts horror tropes that resonate with modern audiences. Many horror tropes are timeless – blood speckled claws in the dark is pretty much always going to be scary – but many other horror elements are merely puzzling, and are going to be downplayed. The modern audience is not particularly worried about miscegenation or communist invasion, and those elements of old horror fiction are deliberately excluded from their appropriation into After Sundown.

    Monday, September 9, 2013

    Spared: A short story

    Paris is dead. The streets are empty. The air is thick and oppressive, leaving Durant's brow continually beading with sweat from the humidity. His collar and shirt’s back are darkened from sweat, but they remain for their warmth in the coming night’s cold. His feet, in too-large shoes, clop on the road; his bloodshot eyes scanning, his hand squeezing golden livre for comfort.

    He checks inside a window and sees a bed with a corpse, stiff with death, lying within.  Tightly gripped in its hands is a rosary. Durant looks around, then continues down the road, having to climb over the occasional cart. A rat sniffs a handful of not-quite rotten apples on the street, which provokes Durant into swinging at it so he can get his rightful prize. As the rodent scurries, Durant cradles an armful of the fruit and bites eagerly, spitting out the spoiled portions as he travels the empty streets.

    To his left, a glint of metal alerts him to an open door. Turning, he sees a row of weapons, each of fine quality. Swords and daggers and maces reveal themselves as he slowly steps into the shop. As he reaches for a sword detailed in gold filigree, he recoils in horror. Behind the sword, hidden from view by carts, is a fresh corpse. The skin is pulled taut from dryness, or perhaps long-term hunger, and a large black gouge of congealed blood covers the neck and has run down the clothes. In one hand is a morning star, dinged and cracked with only a few splatters of blood. With despair, Durant forsakes any attempt at grasping the sword, or any other weapon in the building, as he leaves.

    A church tower is revealed after a turn down the road, making Durant scamper with a vigor fueled by fear of the sun's preparations to invade the western horizon, the remaining apples dully thumping the ground in his wake. He grip the handle of the church’s entryway doors tightly, praising the saints, and pushes. The door doesn't budge. Worried, Durant pushes again: then another time. His breath becomes frantic, and he now pushes for all his worth. Legs straining as his body leans against the door, his hands now serve as stability rather than power, and his shoes begin to slip. With a pant, he takes off his shoes and begins to slam himself against the door. There's a shudder and a creak after the second slam, which gives Durant the motivation to continue. Throwing himself against the door, his stinging shoulder is ignored in his desperation to get off the streets. Finally, the sound of wood cracking is heard, and the door swings open. Panting, he sees the remnants of a single misshapen wooden board that was used as a makeshift bar slowly sliding out of its place and clacking on the stone floor.

    The inside of the church is dark, and it takes a minute for Durant to calm himself, at which point he notices the sound of breathing continues to fill the darkness. Closing the door behind him, he anoints himself with holy water, gulps a handful more, gives a short prayer, and reminds himself to include this sin to his now fanciful confession. Adjusting to the low light trickling from the windows, he focuses on the ragged breathing in the shadows. Despite the quenching earlier, he only releases a broken whisper. Coughing, he tries to speak again and succeeds. A feeble, feminine voice responds. Running around the pews, he opens the back door, only to be assaulted by the stench of vomit and vinegar.

    Inside the rectory are three nuns. Two are on the younger side, but it takes a moment to see this due to the single candle illuminating their glazing eyes. Their breath is loud and irregular, their skin bruised, and an old nun is washing them with cool water and vinegar as they lay across a stone table. Wooden pails lay on the floor beside the table, holding the used cloth and water to clean up after the sick nuns. One of the younger nuns turns her head towards Durant, her meek voice carrying far through the hallowed hall, telling Durant to stop the matron.The care-taking nun shushes her, admonishing her behavior.

    Durant finally reacts, his throat cracking from not speaking in so long, and praises the saints for finding a woman of God clean enough to be spared His wrath. Hurriedly, he circles around the table to keep his distance from the younger nuns, getting closer to the elder. Holding out two livre, he offers it as tithing and in hopes of receiving blessed food. The matron looks up and tells him to keep the money, because they no longer need such in these times, and that if he truly deserved their food, he would help protect their holy grounds after having broken its sanctity. With a wave, she points at the broken wood scattered around the open door.

    Thanking her, Durant runs back to the door to close it. With a glance, he notices several pieces of furniture. After a short time, sweat dripping and muscles sore, the door is now barricaded more than it was before.

    The younger nuns, not much more than twenty years, come towards him; one is holding a pitcher of wine, while the other carries an old sackcloth with a combined handful of cheese and dried meat inside. Their gait is slow and unsteady, but determined. Handing Durant the food and water, he reluctantly lets himself close enough to accept the gifts. The wine is the most refreshing thing he’s had in days, which makes up for the quality of the meat and cheese. If it were two weeks ago, the food would’ve been thrown to the dogs. Durant thanks them and asks their names as he gives his in turn, and is informed they are Mahault and Jehanne. They escaped from their convent when everyone else had died, and found food in the cathedral.

    Durant tries to comfort them, telling them of the miracle of survival. Hunters, soldiers, and nobles alike have fallen, yet they continue. Jehanne, with her amber eyes, smiles slightly. Mahault’s hand is grasped and squeezed. They are both comforted by Durant’s promise to try to protect wives of God. He tells them none of them will be alone.

    Looking up, he thinks for a moment that the elder nun is praying to Saint Roch in one of the stained glass windows, but her gaze is too low. The sun glares through and outlines the matron as she turns to face Durant with a familiar look of dread.

    The revenants are soon to rise.

    With a hushing tone to prevent any dissent, the matron hands a rosary to Durant. She tells him to begin reciting Hail Marys. As his hands grip the rosary with his prayers, he can feel a calm that he has not felt since before the coming of the Restless Death. It was only a week ago when the first souls fell ill and died the next day.

    It was raining. Men in wax-coated robes walked the streets, runoff from their wide-brimmed hats fell onto their prodigious noses, like a gargoyle watching death. Those without signs of illness, or signs readily ignored, run by them with a wide berth, as they try to find a safer place to hide from the disease. Others slam their doors, refusing entry to any for fear of the wind most foul cursing them with the same death. Yet, more than many would have expected, other doors were opened by grief-stricken residents let in the beaked men. They hoped for salvation, but not even their administrations worked, and they carried the victim’s corpse out to the passing cart led by the man in an oilcloth robe.

    Durant’s reverie is broken by three solemn tolls. Looking around, the matron is nowhere to be seen, while the young nuns are slowly placing their hoods back on their heads. It is the holy sound of the evening Angelus, which can be heard from all across the city on as silent a night as tonight. With a rush, Durant strides towards the stairs and climbs towards the top as the bell tolls three more times. By the time he reaches the apex to stop it, the bell has thrice rung three times, and the matron doesn’t resist his attempts at restraining her. The night has come, and the church is in service.

    Looking out the window, Durant sees a mass of corpses ambling in the streets. By the light of the full moon, their eyes waxen and unblinking, their chests still, yet their dead limbs propel them down the road toward the church. Their feet plop on the road, the only sound in the night air. Durant stares in paralyzing terror, unaware of the matron going downstairs to pray with the other nuns.

    Upon reaching the church, their first attempts at opening the barred doors are rebuffed. Unfazed, they begin knocking, leading up to banging when neither the nuns nor Durant answer them, which rises to pushing against the barricade while the others on the sides of the entry bang on the walls. Several cry out a need for sanctuary, others laugh loudly while describing the taste of a nun’s blood and flesh.  All the while a general babble moves across the crowd that can be heard through the thick doors of the church.

    Wood creaks and groans, making the nuns pray all the more fervently. Voices can be heard from the din: “I smell sweat of man!” “Sanctuary!”  “I seek open doors, closed hearts, and for you to move!”  “Come, move quickly!” By this point, Durant is leaning against the barricade, trying to stem the oncoming horde of living dead. His feet are slipping. With a loud crack, wood splinters scatter and Durant succumbs to their momentum, stepping back in fear.

    With the light of the candles in the church their visages are more plainly visible and horrific. Each face is sunken and drained of color, their eyes are milky, yet scan the area like predators. One of them has the same face as the body Durant saw in the weapons shop, the blood remaining where the wound has disappeared, its hands empty of any weapon this time. Two are familiar as twisted reflections, the cheese-maker that Durant called friend and his old cleaning woman, but they do not seem to deign to recognize him.

    They pour in, filling the vestibule, while the first ones in the doors move along the walls to examine them. Several breathe in what sounds like a dry cackle as they drag their fingernails into the walls or desecrate the statue of a saint. Three gather around Durant, staring at him as a curiosity and not quite touching him with their fingers, cackling at his recoiled responses.

    Just before any reach beyond the vestibule, a revenant in a long priest’s robes, slight tattered and caked with dirt, steps into the church. This causes all of the revenants to pause in their activities, even the ones teasing Durant. This irreverent mockery stood out for more than its apparel, as one of its eyes remained clear and unmarred by the milky film covering the others’.

    With a gentle wave of both hands from the sides to the front, the revenants uniformly acknowledge and move more directly into the church. They move around the priest. As before, they periodically make a dry laugh as they scratch the decorations and furniture, but they don’t delay themselves for long. One by one, they move into the pews of the church and seat themselves. Some remain silent, while others babble to each other, making lewd or inappropriate comments about the imagery.

    All three nuns, by this point, are huddled against each other within several paces of the altar, using one of the pillars as poor cover from the sight of the revenants. Durant is finally cognizant enough to look for them, trying to move without drawing attention to himself, though the revenants are currently refraining from dallying too long so as to find a seat.

    Crouching adjacent to them, Durant whispers to the nuns, telling them to look at the situation as Providence. None of the revenants are attacking, so they might yet survive. This does little to calm them, as Mahault and Jehanne are now shivering greatly from disease, while the matron fans them, trying to keep the smell of death from their noses. When Durant suggests leaving the cathedral immediately while the revenants are in one place, the matron looks up at him. She tells him they can try, if he can carry the heavier and weaker Jehanne while she brings Mahault.

    Turning to the younger nuns, the matron tells them to be strong and to pray to Saint Roch to protect them, urging them greatly to summon their strength to make the trip away. By now, every seat is filled with the dead, and a couple handful are standing on the sides due to lack of room. One is near Durant and the nuns, and having overheard their decision, steps up to Durant.

    “Hey! Hey. Don’t leave. Stay, all of you.” the revenant slides close, bending over and craning its neck out. The breath from its speech throws specks of fluid onto Durant, making him shiver with a mix of fear and revulsion. With a leering expression at all four, “Fresh! Stay, watch, pray. Pray for nice hair, for new shoes. Pray for Holy Father in an ugly dress!” Its throat forces out a mocking, heaving laugh.

    This incites the matron into standing and taking the step up to the revenant, picking up a wooden cross from her pocket. Holding it strongly before the revenant, she begins to recite verses and prayers like a weapon, her voice projecting strongly.

    With disdain, the revenant raises its hand and pushes the matron’s arm aside so as to step closer, its face nearly touching hers. “Barley. Stolen barley. Barley of the Earl’s. Pottage for good girls. No mutton for you. Your hat’s askew.” With that, he pushes her habit to the side, making the matron drop her cross in surprise.

    Durant, trying to protect the matron, reaches over for the cross. As he stands, the cross connects with the revenant’s jaw. There is the sound of cracking leather as the revenant reels back from the force. Durant doesn’t let that be the only one, and swings hard across into the revenant’s face. It’s stopped by the hand of the  revenant, whose chin shows a crack with what looks like dust falling out, its face grimacing with anger. The cross shatters into splinters from the strength of its grip. With the other hand, it grabs Durant by the neck and holds him into the pillar with unstoppable strength. “Come. Move quickly! Live one here. It sweats so!”

    A dozen near the scene rise from their pews with excitement. They bound over and look at Durant and the nuns as if for the first time, blackened mouths agape. Durant struggles for freedom, releasing the cross and trying to pull off the hand against his neck. He kicks at the revenant while Jehanne pushes meekly against it, neither doing more than budging it. Mahault is curling up into a ball, but a revenant lifts her while stroking her head, “Stand! Watch. Watch them squirm.” More revenants swarm over to the fray, trying to get their hands on one of the living. Durant tries to scream, but is silenced by a hand. The murmur and patter of the dead spreads through the church, rising to a cacophony.

    “Enough!” The shout carries across the cathedral, a voice dark and strong. All of the revenants freeze to the still of a statue. Even crying Mahault stops. “Sit. Behave and prepare. They will be of no bother.” It’s the voice of the revenant priest, his one good eye judging. He strolls down the center of the cathedral towards the altar. Releasing the living, they quietly file back into their seats and positions facing the altar, leaving Durant dumbfounded and terrified. There is a revenant standing before each door out, leaving him trapped and unable to do anything.

    The priest reaches the altar, then turns to face the unholy congregation. His arms wave upward for emphasis, “Hear! All of your souls have lain to sleep. Each have prayed the Lord for you to keep. Then you die and then you wake. All can see there’s no soul to take.” Continuing, the priest has the entire congregation enraptured with the blasphemous sermon; even the living can not help but watch.

    After fifteen minutes of the affront, Mahault has gathered enough strength to push past her weakness to start walking towards the preaching revenant. There is no sweat upon her brow, and she walks with a more unsteady stride than any revenant in the church, but she continues. She crumples like a rag when the priest backhands her.  He then bends down to pick up her senseless body. “Here! Another vessel, fresh and ready. All it takes is breath to make her bright and heady.”

    With that, the priest leans close and exhales slowly into Mahault’s face. Within a moment her milky white eyes open and a smile forms. “Yes! Asleep before. Awake now! Jehanne come! Get up and we can laugh at God together!” The strength and vehemence in Mahault’s voice startles the new revenant, as well as Durant and the matron.  With a more level tone she continues, “How? Truth is plain. Deny yourself. Life moves. Death moves. Move!” As she speaks, she steps closer to Jehanne, stooping in the same manner as the other revenants.

    Jehanne pulls out a cloth and wraps it around her mouth, tying a knot behind her head. Picking up the broken cross, a mere stick with a cracked and pointed tip by now, she lunges. She’s stopped by her target’s unnatural speed and strength, much revitalized from the disease ridden movements of mere minutes ago. Jehanne struggles against its grasp, turning her head from its deep exhales into her face, and is freed when Durant tackles the much smaller revenant, both falling from the momentum.

    Jehanne’s aim is true. The revenant immediately stops moving when the stake strikes the heart, leaving Durant the chance to get out of its grip and roll to his side, panting with adrenaline. All of the others are quiet, watching. Jehanne remains on her knees, staring at what used to be Mahault, panting heavily while the sweat pours down the sides of her face. Durant slowly stands, amazed at what just happened, the matron by his side to help him stand and watch Jehanne.

    Jehanne reaches over to slowly recite a prayer and closes the corpse’s eyes. The moment her hand leaves the eyes, they slam open to reveal milky fury. Blood flows quickly as the nun’s arm is ripped off. Every other revenant in the church blinks for the first time, then they laugh in unison, the priest the loudest of all. It is a terrible cackle, forced and mocking.

    Taking advantage of the momentary distraction, Durant and the matron are completely unhindered as they race to the door and escape, leaving the cackle of the revenants a distant echo in the night. He can’t stop hearing the laughing words of the priest from just before he got out the door of the church, “Durant! A good laugh you gave us. Forever safe you will be. You will not die. In the end, you will be alone.”