Sunday, May 23, 2021

(Earthdawn 1e) Horrors

 The "monster-book, but told from an in-character perspective" gimmick from Creatures of Barsaive is back, but it works better here, and I think the reason is a matter of genre. Horrors is, unsurprisingly, a horror-fantasy book and thus when it talks about its titular monsters, there is something furtive and uncertain about it. Like maybe we simply shouldn't be talking about the mysterious spiritual orb that erupts its unblinking eyes into the physical world. Maybe talking about it draws its attention. Maybe most of the people who would be in a position to talk about it are dead, and the only clue we have to what killed them is a fragmented diary that gradually descends into incoherent ranting about how the author is constantly being watched

And then it cuts off, and we're left to fill in the blanks.

Horrors is a tricky book because it's actually a lot of fun, but it may be too difficult to use. The bulk of the pagecount is devoted to 15 named Horrors, each of which has its own iconic horror plot, from Giftbringer, who plays elaborate mindgames meant to foster deadly paranoia and jealousy, to Ubyr, who's just a big fucking worm that will smash your town. Any one of the entries here could serve as the central premise of a campaign. However, you kind of need to use them that way, because they are also so powerful that if you just toss them at PCs like a regular monster encounter, you will most likely kill them dead.

And I suppose there's nothing wrong with that as a premise for a supplement. Probably better than the regular practice of trying to cover the whole gamut of character power in every monster book. These are the guys who forced the whole world to cower in underground bunkers for the bulk of the last 500 years, and they are beefy enough to make that reaction justified. . . at least, according to the introduction (oh, sorry "Game Information" section), which inexplicably comes at the end of the book. Yes, tell us the design assumptions and optimal use case of the book on page 106 out of 110, that's not weird at all.

Actually, I think that's just FASA's house-style. I recall a lot of Shadowrun books that were the same way - front-load the exciting fiction elements, and then have a thin bit of rpg-crunch to try and make the fiction into a game. It makes for entertaining books, granted, but I'm not sure about the wisdom of explaining the format of a stat block after I've already read 15 stat blocks. My recommendation here is to simply read the book out of order. Game Info first, then the Horror entries.

Overall, this book is a keeper. It's a bit end-game to be immediately useful to any given game, but with a little bit of adaptation, you could use its various entities as arc villains for Earthdawn games that emphasized the setting's horror-genre elements. Start the PCs off slow, facing minions and constructs, and only gradually move them towards one of the big Named Horrors. Or just start a high-level campaign and have them brawl directly with Verjigorm, the Great Hunter of dragons, who is so powerful that he features prominently in a draconic creation myth. It would be interesting to see if the system could handle it.

Since this was a short post, I'm now going to talk about some odds and ends from my notes.

The first story featured something that hearkened back to the very first book I read for the blog, D&D Basic. Back then, I thought it was odd that adventurers were having their bodies and possessions delivered to their surviving relatives (less the "death tax"), but here it's a major plot point. The narrator eventually wanders down the exact same road as his deceased adventurer brother and it's so on the nose that I can't help feel like this is based on an actual game ("my character died, but his brother with identical stats is ready to carry on his legacy.")

The entry for Druistadt has the narrator repeat a story they heard second-hand, putting a framing device inside their framing device. Two layers deep is pushing it, guys.

Ristul is a Horror who represents the torment of eternal corruption, and is almost entirely an abstract concept. So much so that the bulk of its stats (including its hit points) are "NA." Immediately following that was Taint, the Horror without a physical body that twisted magic (but which had stats and could be fought on the astral plane). Either of those Horrors would have been fine on their own (though does Earthdawn really want to be the sort of game that has villainous abstract concepts), but being so close together did neither of them any favors. The book really needed to settle on a mechanic for its non-physical enemies.

 Gnashers are mindless Horror minions that just eat everything around them. Their entry says players can fight them "guilt-free," which suggest to me that the problem of "always evil" races was a conscious concern. The intelligent undead community in Parlainth probably wasn't a fluke.

Finally, the Flydrop Coat is one of the most evocative cursed items I've seen so far. It gradually turns you into a spider monster, but it starts off just being a useful magic item that kills pests, until about a week in when "the thought enters the wearer's mind that the flies killed by the coat probably taste good." Gross, but in an awesome way.

Ukss Contribution: I had a lot of choices here. Most of this book is filled with cool stuff. The Flydrop Coat almost made it. As did the Giftbringer, whose initial description made me think "hot, young Santa" or Tempter, the psychic Horror in the form of a seed. However the final choice goes to the Dread Iota. They're a microscopic species of Horror minions. They look like tiny humanoids and they infect people like a disease.

Literally. You get what you think is a wasting disease and then some sage looks at your tissues under a microscope and sees that there's these scaly little people dancing around your cells, wrecking shit. Eventually, they master high ritual magic and use necromancy to control your body (alive or dead, it doesn't matter), until they trick or coerce you into passing on some infected food or water to another victim.

I figure Ukss' disease-people will probably be less nakedly demonic, and merely be a threat because they treat their home with the same respect and care that humans treat ours, but I do like the idea of getting sick because a miniature society is homesteading your body.

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