Posts Tagged ‘old pyramid articles’
As I said yesterday, I decided to post up the two articles I wrote in Pyramid Magazine years ago.
This is from December 8, 2006.
A School Of Magick for Unknown Armies
You know the horror of the magick. It makes slaves of people, consumes them, and turns them into monsters that bring reality crashing down on the innocent. You understand their power, and use it against them. If you must become the monster to fight the monster, so be it.
For every person who is successfully brainwashed — “trained” — by an adept, there are a hundred students who “fail,” and get ditched for the next punk who might have “an open mind.” These poor souls are left battered and broken, having stared into the abyss and lost their minds, their souls. They’re left unable to function in the real world, useless to the occult underground, and have nothing to show for it but a look of disappointment and pity.
You were almost one of those. When you stared into the abyss and saw it staring back, you didn’t smile with newfound insight, nor did you cower or let yourself be consumed. You screamed “NO!” with every ounce of your being. Your mentor ditched you, but you didn’t become another victim. You stood up, recognized the horror for what it was, and lashed out.
The Unnatural is anathema. You learned how to fight it, how to stop it, but to do so you had to become it. It doesn’t matter anymore you can’t ignore what you saw or try to pretend it didn’t change you. The only alternative is to live as a broken shell. If you must become a monster to fight monsters, you’ll drag as many of them down to Hell with you as you can.
The central paradox of Countermancy is using the unnatural to stop the unnatural. You are friend and foe to the occult underground at the same time. They’re the only ones who can understand and accept you and your “curse,” but they’re also the ones you’re fighting.
Countermancy Blast Style
Countermancers (also known in the occult underground as “buzzkills”) don’t have a blast. Instead, they have an “anti-blast” — a spell that undoes the effects of a blast spell. This takes the form of a miraculous recovery when the damage isn’t obvious to an outside observer. When there is visible physical damage, then the person recovers rapidly, but not unnaturally or alarmingly so. Dead people cannot be affected by an anti-blast.
If someone is hit with a blast and anti-blast at the same time, the blast is reduced or completely neutralized. A significant anti-blast will neutralize any blast. A minor anti-blast will neutralize a minor blast and reduce a significant blast into hand-to-hand damage.
Anti-blasts cannot be done with tainted charges (see Generating Tainted Charges below).
Countermancers must pick the school their teacher attempted to pass on, which may be any school except Countermancy. This is known as their Affinity School. Record this alongside the skill name: “Magic: Countermancy (Entropomancy) 55%”.
Buzzkills also have at least two Hardened and two Failed Unnatural notches, rather than the standard one.
Generate a Minor Charge: Live the “normal” life. Every 24 hours spent without contact with magick or the Unnatural generates a minor charge for a buzzkill, as long as he is able to keep magick out of his thoughts as well. Every day that the Countermancer remains abstinent from magick and the Unnatural, the GM secretly rolls against the buzzkill’s Magick skill without flip-flopping or shifts. On a success, his inherent magick blocked the chare from forming. On a failure, he gains a charge — but he doesn’t know about it until he checks on his charges, which ruins his charge for that day. There are no additional effects for matches or critical successes or failures.
Countermancers can also gain tainted minor charges from their affinity school. See “Generating Tainted Charges.”
Generate a Significant Charge: Stop an adept from gaining a charge, disrupt a charge ritual, or force a charged-up adept to break taboo. The Countermancer does not have to be the direct cause of the disruption. He could have a dipsomancer thrown out of a bar by talking to the bouncer, instead of slapping the drink out of his hand, but he must have instigated the disruption.
The buzzkill cannot gain any more charges from the same adept during the next hour. Since the adept can still try for more charges, the wise Countermancer subdues his target or gets the Hell out of Dodge.
The biggest drawback to intervening (aside from the lethality involved in getting between an adept and his charge) is that the Countermancer cannot stage it. He must truly be stopping an adept for the sake of keeping magick at bay, not to accumulate power himself. Others may stage this and trick him into getting a charge but he must fully believe in the act.
Countermancers can also gain tainted significant charges from their affinity school. See “Generating Tainted Charges.”
Generate a Major Charge: Disrupt an adept from your affinity school from gaining a major charge, or force him to break taboo while he’s holding the charge.
Countermancers cannot gain tainted major charges from their affinity school.
Generating Tainted Charges: Buzzkills who need power in a hurry can gain minor or significant charges by following the rituals for their affinity school. This is a dangerous, desperate act. First, any non-tainted (or “clean”) charges he has are immediately lost since participating in a charge ritual breaks taboo. He cannot gain any more clean charges until he’s rid himself of all the tainted ones and spends three days away living a normal life, as if generating minor charges. Gaining a tainted charge is a deliberate act — a Countermancer of Plutomancy doesn’t get a charge everyone he receives money, only when he does so with the intent of gaining a charge.
That’s the good news. Tainted charges cause severe problems for those who utterly reject the Unnatural. The Countermancer suffers a negative shift on every stat and skill while holding the charge, -10% if only holding minor charges, -25% if holding any significant charges as him soul is rejecting the charge like a bad implant. This doesn’t end until the adept loses all the tainted charges. Because of this, these charges are unstable. When using tainted charges, they are spent every time a spell is attempted, even if the Magick roll fails.
Regardless of whether the charges he is carrying are clean or tainted, he can only fuel Countermancy spells with them.
Taboo: Countermancers have two taboos. First, they may not be a willing participant in an unnatural effect, magick spell (aside from their own Countermancy spells) or ritual. Only clean charges are lost when breaking this taboo. Buzzkills may partake in the company of adepts and their ilk without breaking the taboo (if they can stomach each other in the first place), but that’s as far as it goes.
Second — and here’s the kicker — they share the same taboo as their affinity school. There is enough of an imprint of his former teacher’s school that he is bound by those rules. This is a never-ending source of frustration for buzzkills. Breaking this taboo affects both normal and tainted charges.
Random Magick Domain: The cosmic status quo reinforcement of the Natural. Strange noises in your home? It’s just old floorboards. Get mauled by some unspeakable thing? It was just a bear, and you’re recovering a lot faster. Countermancy has no effect on avatar channels avatars are the paragons of the cosmic status quo.
Starting Charges: Newly created Countermancers start with as many charges, all clean, as new adepts in their affinity school start with.
Special Effect: If the Countermancer is holding any clean charges, an adept from his affinity school who attempts to affect his with a spell has their magick roll flip-flopped if it would make the roll fail or be less effective, even if the adept flip-flopped it already. This effect works against every spell, not just harmful ones. Only running out of charges turns this off. If the spell is suppressed, the Countermancer doesn’t know he did it, and the adept treats it like a normal spell failure.
When the buzzkill is charged (clean or tainted), adepts from his affinity school sense him as a malevolent force when they see him. Those who have dealt with Countermancers before knows what this means, though the message is clear enough to those less educated.
Countermancy Minor Formula Spells
Unlike other adepts, Countermancers rarely give their formula spells interesting or inspiring names. Some even go as far as to not name them at all, to avoid the idea that they’re actually doing something unnatural. The names below are as inspiring as most Countermancers get.
Peace and Quiet
Cost: 1 minor charge
Effect: The Countermancer can suppress a minor unnatural phenomenon or the effects of a minor artifact within visual range for a number of minutes equal to the magick roll. If the phenomenon or effect would expire by then, it does not return.
Cost: 1 minor charge
Effect: The Countermancer can cause minor charge charges to leak out of an adept by pushing one of his charges in, causing them both to cancel and disappear. He must grab the adept flesh-to-flesh and focus — not just mere casual contact or have any clothing in the way. He can only cause one charge to be lost at a time, but can continue until there are no charges left.
Soul Healing does not affect significant charges directly, but if the target doesn’t have any minor charges left, any significant charges will be converted down until there are some minor charges to lose.
This spell does not work against Countermancers with clean charges, and cannot be done using tainted charges. If the target has no charges to affect, the spell fails and the buzzkill’s charge is not lost.
But Fear Itself
Cost: 2 minor charges
Effect: The target of this spell becomes immune to Unnatural madness checks. He doesn’t suddenly become fearless, but ignores non-threatening effects (even If they are shoved right in his face) or rationalizes any dangers as mundane threats. This lasts for the sum of the dice, in minutes.
If the target also recently failed an Unnatural check, this works like Psychological First Aid (p. 69), by having the target forget the unnatural event or rationalize it as something mundane. While many people do this on their own, this spell makes that concrete.
Since the target saw the event differently than others (or blocked it out completely), he may be subject to Self or Isolation checks if confronted aggressively by other witnesses.
Cost: 2 minor charges
Effect: This is the Countermancer’s minor anti-blast. It may be used to heal damage done by a blast spell, whether the damage was done to Wound Points, Soul, or something else. The damage healed is the sum of the dice or the amount of damage done by the blast, whichever is lower. The anti-blast cannot heal anything but the damage taken from magickal blasts. It also neutralizes a minor blast thrown at the target at the same time, and turns a significant blast into hand-to-hand damage.
If the effects of the blast are not outwardly visible (like the pornomancers’ blast), the healing is instantaneous. If the effect is outwardly visible (like the epideromancers’, or any blasts that direct physical threats such as the dipsomancers’ or urbanomancers’), the wound points are gained back immediately, but the physical evidence remains, though it heals faster than normal (bruises fade and cuts heal faster, etc.).
Anti-blasts cannot be done with tainted charges.
Cost: X minor charges
Effect: Disrupt a minor spell as it’s being cast. The cost is the same as the cost of the spell being nullified, though the buzzkill only finds out the cost after the fact. If he doesn’t have enough charges to stop it, the spell goes off as normal and he doesn’t lose any charges. The target adept spends his charges, even if the spell is nullified.
Against a minor spell from his affinity school, this only costs 1 clean minor charge, regardless of the target spell’s cost.
Countermancy Significant Formula Spells
I Said Shut Up!
Cost: 1 significant charge
Effect: Like Peace and Quiet, but for significant unnatural phenomena and effects from significant artifacts. You can also use this against minor unnatural phenomena and effects from minor artifacts, for a number of hours equal to the sum of the dice.
Bring Peace Unto The People
Cost: 1 significant charge
Effect: Works as But Fear Itself, but for a group of people the Countermancer can see, up to the number the dice rolled.
Cost: 2 significant charges
Effect: The Countermancer can undo the effects of any minor spell that has already been cast, as long as he knows a spell was cast, and is either in the vicinity of where the spell effect took place or knows who the caster was. The target adept does not regain his charges. For every 10 people affected or witnessing the original spell (aside from any adepts), this costs another significant charge.
Note that the longer it has been since a spell was cast, the number of people affected by countering it increases. Practical limitations are usually around one hour for very obvious spells, a day for subtle spells that actually affected someone, to a week for information-gathering spells.
The Countermancer remembers the spell having been cast, and any events based on it, rather than the altered reality. This could result in Self or Isolation checks when dealing with people remembering the past differently.
This costs one less significant charge when used against spells from his affinity school.
That Didn’t Happen!
Cost: 2 significant charges
Effect: This is the Countermancer’s significant anti-blast. It works like the minor anti-blast, only the damage healed is equal to the dice rolled or the damage done from blasts, whichever is lower. It also neutralizes a minor or significant blast thrown at the target at the same time.
Anti-blasts cannot be done with tainted charges.
Punish the Traitors of Reality
Cost: 4 significant charges
Effect: Adepts near the Countermancer (within 33 yards) who are holding any charges take damage as the charges explode out of them. Adepts containing only minor charges suffer damage equal to the same of the buzzkill’s Magick roll, just as if hit with a minor blast. Those who are holding significant charges are affected with firearms damage, as they would be by a significant blast. The damage manifests as trauma and burns from the charges literally exploding inside their body. Bystanders near the adepts are not physically affected, though they may be shocked to see people around them suddenly convulse or die.
No one is exactly sure what happens when an adept holding a major charge is affected. Theories range from them being immune to the magical equivalent of a nuclear weapon.
Countermancers are not affected by this spell, unless they are holding tainted charges. This includes the buzzkill casting this spell, if he’s holding any taint. Adepts affected may make a Magick roll to feel something wrong with their charges, and can let them go before they’re damaged — provided they actually understand what’s going on.
Cost: X significant charges
Effect: As Minor Counterspell, but for significant spells and charges.
Countermancy Major Effects
Undo any spell. Permanently nullify any artifact or an unnatural phenomenon. Cause all practitioners of a school of magick to lose their charges. Remove an adept’s ability to do magick. Remove all the memories of an unnatural event.
- There’s a buzzkill hunting the Freak in Chicago. They’ve duked it out once, and he walked away with all his body parts in the right places. He’s got quite a few people in Chicago nervous.
- Rumor has it that there are a number of Countermancers working for the Sleepers, but they don’t do the run-of-the-mill jobs. If you’re an adept, and you kill a Sleeper, you can expect a few to hunt you down, happy to rid the world of another abomination.
- A Countermancer in Vancouver is challenging the Godwalker of the Pilgrim. Most of them don’t play the avatar game, but he’s hoping to ascend and make magick more difficult, if not impossible.
I decided that today & tomorrow, I’ll post up the two articles I wrote in Pyramid Magazine years ago. Since I have the rights to reprint and they’re pretty old, I figured “hey, maybe people would like to see how I got my start here” and also see how my writing’s changed. Plus, maybe the ideas are worth merit today.
This is from February 6, 2004. And for the record, I have not edited it post-publication.
Often, Special Forces and covert operations/espionage games operate with the idea that the end of the mission or getting home in one piece is the climax of the game, perhaps with a little debriefing. Most of the time that is where the game ends; gamers usually don’t want to reenact their boring real-life desk jobs by writing reports. However, writing an After-Action Review can be fun, as the players are documenting the events of a particular mission, their exploits and craftiness, as well as giving their take on how the mission went down.
The content and purpose of an After-Action Review (AAR for short) is sketched out in GURPS Special Ops, page 99. That section also includes the type of information that is generally contained in one, so you may wish to refer to it in order to learn the sort of details to include. The focus of this article is on how to use player-written AARs in a game.
Functions of an After-Action Review
An AAR has several uses: Collecting intelligence to assist with related operations, aiding in the success of similar operations in the future, and evaluating the performance of the team, both collectively and individually. These are the reasons why the characters of the game world would write them. However, when engaging your players in this activity, there are other in-game and out-of-game reasons for them:
Gives a feel for down time. The bulk of many special operations game sessions is planning before the mission or action during the mission, especially when the GM has to incorporate the various tactics the players use into the game, such as splitting up, doing recon, or performing specialty tasks (setting up a sniping position, perhaps, or wiring a bridge with explosives). Doing things like writing reports, having lengthy debriefings, and going to get some chow and shut eye are often off-camera. Writing an AAR can give more of a feel for the game world and lend a bit of realism — characters have to justify their actions, and they have a life outside of dodging explosions and gunfire.
Records a story for posterity. Players and GMs may look back fondly at the reviews from a Black Ops dinosaur hunt campaign when stumbling upon them months or years later. Perhaps they may decide to run a sequel or a spin-off, or just enjoy passing them around for old time’s sake.
Allow for subtle secret communication. If you have one person playing a character whose true identity or purpose is a secret to the rest of the party, he could write up a review for his Secret Masters after each mission. Having written reviews the player hands to his superiors can also help determine what information he feeds them, rather than relying on memory or on assumptions about what the character tells. In addition, the character can deliberately leave out information and the GM will know to not feed those facts to the NPC superiors, such as omitting the location of a party member that the operative is growing attached to.
Gives opportunity to keep secrets from superiors. If the operatives decide that they need to keep a portion of a mission a secret — such as not reporting that the Thing Lurking In The Shadows slaughtered half the team in fear that they would be locked away as murderous psychotics — then the players can roleplay that in their reviews, and the GM knows to only include any information in the reviews in his mental “what the superiors know” checklist.
Props for a later game. Written reviews can be used as props when the GM plays a superior who wants to question the characters about an inconsistent story. This can help add drama or tension if the players are trying to keep an aspect of the mission secret. What if one of the agents in the “secrets” situation decides not to hold to the pact? Alternatively, a new campaign or different game can involve a mission to rescue an operative by including parts of his reviews in the Operation Order. In this case, holding onto past AARs is good for future game fodder.
Settling disputes between characters. When a mission doesn’t go as planned, the characters and their superiors will look to see what went wrong and who, if anyone, is to blame. Rather than waiting until the debriefing, sometimes arguments will take place in the middle of a game, such as when the commander gives an order to retreat. An AAR gives the character the ability to voice his disagreement with the order to his superiors while still following orders. It also allows the character to state why he disobeyed orders if necessary. A well-written and well-reasoned AAR could affect the superiors’ judgment upon that character — the commander’s superiors could reason that the order was ill-advised, and may forgive the character for disobeying the order.
Settling disputes between players. Tactician players can sometimes get into heated arguments about the position of their characters and the situation they are in when something goes wrong. If Agent Zulu argues about Agent Rice’s poor decision to fire a snap shot at an escaped prisoner running right next to Zulu, and an argument breaks out about distances from each character, skill scores, and firing penalties, it’s up to the GM to get that resolved so the game can move on. Telling the players to remember it for the AAR (and to remember to keep it in character) can help resolve that argument for the time being without making either player feel like he has no say in the matter.
How to use After-Action Reviews in your game
First, decide if you want the reviews to be optional or mandatory. In general, optional is the best way to go if you want to introduce the idea to your group and don’t want to penalize anyone who might not be interested or feels daunted by the idea. Mandatory is appropriate if you want to heavily involve players in the downtime of a character or if you have a behind-the-scenes plot you want the players to report about, such as the existence of an alien conspiracy.
If you use AARs as an optional part of the game, you might entice players with a small reward, such as a character point or two to spend on skills. This will initially motivate players to write reviews, and then seeing the AAR’s effects in action might continue that motivation. If a player does not write one, then assume his character wrote one, but give it no special benefit or penalty.
If you are planning to have AARs as a mandatory part of the game, you will want to talk to your group and make sure they are comfortable with the idea. Many gamers use gaming as a retreat from school or work, and adding a “homework” factor into the gaming experience could be unpleasant for some people, so you should make sure their reports have an impact on the game that they can feel, above and beyond character point awards.
Once you incorporate AARs into your gaming, you must decide what to do with them. There are a few things to consider:
What format do you want the reviews in? You should decide whether or not you want to set a strict format for the documents. A simple narrative essay is easy for some people to write, particularly those who are not used to writing under strict guidelines. Others will prefer to follow a template and insert information accordingly. If you decide on a required format, you should provide the players with a blank copy and maybe an example AAR to help them.
How much access do the other players and characters have to another operative’s review? In some cases, especially if you are involving your players in secret subplots, you will not want to show the reviews to the other players — both they and their characters are in the dark, unless a player specifically shows the others, either in or out of character. In cases like this, it is quite possible that the character would distribute false AARs to other team members, to sow confusion or to cover up something.
At other times, you may wish to show the players what everyone has written, to give them ideas for future reviews and to let them know how others viewed the adventure. You should make it clear whether this is in-character knowledge or not. If you decide it is not in-character knowledge, be sure you aren’t putting a burden on your group by feeding them too much information they aren’t able to act on.
How will you reward your players? A small character point or experience point award can be a fun enticement, especially to get things started. Other possible rewards include promotions or decorations for characters who have their exploits written about (especially by other characters), or add to the group’s reputation with colleagues and favor with superiors. Such advancement could be used to activate subplots, such as special high-profile missions or access to experimental gear. (“Did you hear about how Team Six handled that operation in Brazil? They might be able to help test out the X-220!”) Good individual and team rewards make the experience worthwhile, and may cause the players to put more effort into future reviews.
One thing to keep in mind when rewarding players is the content of the review, not the player’s writing skill. Unless you want to treat it as such, this is not an English class. Many people may be able to play characters well but lack strong writing skills. While it is fine to reward players who go over the top in reviews, just as they do in the actual game session, remember to not discount those who are making serious efforts to also play along.
Other ways to do AARs
The idea of an After-Action Review can be easily molded to fit other campaigns. In a World War II infantry campaign, characters could be writing letters home to family and friends, instead of or in addition to AARs. In this case, they wouldn’t be rewarded by superiors for what they write, but it would further their character immersion, and they may be able to get special rewards such as Mom’s Homemade Cookies (which could be useful for bartering) or just a good feeling hearing that your brother is alive and well after his plane was shot down in the Pacific (which could give the character +1 to Will rolls for morale).
A horror or mystery game could involve people writing in journals, sharing the information and trying to uncover a crime. This is especially useful for tying together two or more separate groups running in one meta-campaign — such as tracking down a mysterious cult and sharing the information with each other from different parts of the world.
Another idea is to change the format of the After-Action Review into a news article. In a pulp-era UFO chasing campaign, players could be from a fringe press that publishes articles on strange phenomena. Players could write articles after their adventure, and there would be a definite reward in the form of payment if the article is published. The opportunity to play a grizzled scheming editor like Spider-Man-nemesis J. J. Jameson can be fun for players or GMs. This sort of format lends itself to immersing the player in the character’s day-to-day professional life, rather than just a series of adventures they are called to go on. Having articles published could lead to fame and fortune, or the wrong king of attention from the wrong kind of people.
An After-Action Review is not suited for every campaign, such as epic fantasy games, where the heroes continue from one day to the next on their quest rather than returning home and writing reports for their superiors (especially when some of those characters may not even be literate). Nor is it suited for every group. However, there is a lot of fun to be had with this additional layer of gaming, and a campaign can be greatly enriched with After-Action Reviews.