Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Planescape Boxed Set

 Oh man, this is one of the big ones. A legendary campaign setting from AD&D's golden age. I have to say something really intelligent about it or my blogging credibility goes straight out the window. No pressure.

Here goes nothing - I liked it. It has potential. Wizards of the Coast should hire me to helm the reboot, because it really didn't stick the landing.

I feel bad for saying that, because it blew my mind as a teenager, and I can still see why it did that, but also, now that I'm older and have read approximately 200-300 more rpg books, I can see that it's all surface. It's attitude and the intimation of scope, but conservative in its structure (this book opens the planes up to low-level characters! and advises the GM to keep the low-levels "close to home") and half-assed in its worldbuilding.

Like, why is the city of Curst? No, really. Why is it?

I suppose I'm going to have to get deep into the weeds of Planescape setting details. I'll try to be quick - Planescape is about adventurers who explore the Great Wheel, a collection of 17 alignment-coded afterlife realms, each with its own distinct (ish) appearance and character. Sixteen of these realms are placed in a ring. You've got the Neutral Good realm at the top, and then going clockwise it's "Neutral Good with chaotic tendencies" followed by "Chaotic Good" followed by "Chaotic Good with neutral tendencies" and so on. In between this ring of 16 realms is the 17th, the realm of pure neutrality.

It's a structure that dates back to before AD&D 1e's Players Handbook (though the PHB quite sensibly puts the material world in the center, instead of some BS plane of neutrality), and you know what, it's a genuine meme. It's a transparent exercise in nerd-obsessive grid-filling, with half the entries existing only because something had to go in the slots, but for all that, it's memorable and fires the imagination. It's good . . .

As a start. Planescape is tasked with turning this thinly-sketched idea into a living campaign setting, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. One of the things it does is change the names and character of certain of the planes. The neutral plane, which as recently as the 2nd edition PHB was called "Concordant Opposition" is now "the Outlands" and it really should just be the material plane because the best thing about it is that it's a place where people can live relatively normal lives, and the worst thing about it is that it's still the plane of profoundly ridiculous take on the concept of neutrality.

I'll quote the book:

Ask a petitioner [ed note: dead soul] of the Outlands to do one thing and he does two. . . See, the petitioners there have this feeling that every action they take affecting the balance of good and evil (or law and chaos) must be offset by an equal action to the opposite side. . .

. . . if an Outlander petitioner smuggles a body away from the hunting fiends of Plague-Mort - a good act by most standards - then he's going to feel compelled to fix the balance. That same petitioner might raise the alarm as soon as the sod's out of town, or he might betray the next berk that's hunted by the fiends. A petitioner's balancing doesn't have to be done immediately. Pure fact is, most of them carry little tallies of their deeds, sometimes in their heads and sometimes in little books.
What in the everliving fuck is that morality even trying to accomplish?

Sorry, that's a diversion. We were talking about Curst. For that conversation, all you need to know is that the Outlands borders all the other planes, and mortal creatures sometimes live there in small settlements. If the settlement is close enough to the border that you can cross over to the other planes, it's called a Gate Town. One of those Gate Towns, close to Carceri, the "Neutral Evil with chaotic tendencies" plane, is called Curst.

Carceri is kind of a neat fantasy location. It's the "prison of the gods," a series of nested spheres, each one contain ever more terrible horrors, sealed away so that they may never again trouble the other worlds.

Curst is the town built just outside Carceri.

Bleak and dusty, Curst's little more than a collection of shanties perched on the edge of Carceri, where those exiled from elsewhere on the Outlands dream out their bitter lives . . .

Every sod in this gate town is here because of one reason: They've got nowhere else to go. They've been driven from power, cut off from those they one thought loved them, and stripped of all their vanities save ego. Now, the thing that makes the work's the collective desire to crush those unbanished.
And here's the thing. It's unthinkable that "they've got nowhere else to go." The whole book is filled with places to go. It's kind of the campaign's central conceit. Even if you're banished from other parts of the Outlands, the Outlands are huge. You could just have gone to some third part that didn't quite suck so much, because it's not as if your banishers are going to put the effort to track you down. If they gave a damn where you went, they'd have just cut off your head. There's literally nothing stopping you from just walking away.

Well, except the town guards. "Those leaving Curst, on the other are required to state reasons for wanting to go elsewhere and show proof they can make it." But it's not clear why they're doing this.

The guards are fellow exiles. The people commanding them are fellow exiles. There's no clear indication that any of the above have anything to gain by keeping people in town. It's an open-air prison, in a temperate location, where the prisoners are the guards and nobody's paying them.

Maybe it's spite? If the leaders can't leave, no one can. Except the leaders can leave. There's nothing keeping them there either, except their desire to return to exactly the place that exiled them and nowhere else. But you could easily plot your glorious return from anywhere, because it's not as if Curst has any great revenge-aiding resources. Just a bunch of bitter people nursing entirely different grudges.

So it's not clear why this town exists. I could think of a few reasons it might. If it was a large group, like a rebel army, that all got banished together, and they all shared the goal of going back to the exact same place, then they could have built a town while they gathered their strength, and the precise location of their landing is as good as any.

Or it could be a prison. Somebody in Sigil could be paying the leaders to keep people to prisoners, and the gate to Carceri is just a threat. Stay in Curst, where there is some distant hope that you might be released, or get tossed into the trap plane with all the monsters too dangerous for the gods. That could be a pretty chilling location.

Or maybe there's something that the inhabitants hope to get from Carceri. All these scary-ass monsters could be useful in getting your revenge, and the town of Curst is a magical research center devoted to getting them out.

But the book doesn't say any of that. I mean, Curst does have a mercenary market, but it's implied that the market followed the town, rather than the other way around (you are allowed to leave if you hire a bunch of mercenaries and plan on going back to exactly where you came from, apparently).

Now, I don't mean to single out Curst here. All of the Gate Towns are like this to one degree or another. You've got a plane in the Great Ring, and then a town that's like a watered down version of that plane. Outside the plane of Baator, the realm of ultimate law in service to ultimate evil, there's the town of Ribcage. It's a totalitarian dictatorship. Outside Ysgard, the rowdy Norse-flavored plane, there's Glorium, which is a town where people enjoy drinking and fighting and manly honor. In fact, it's so much like Ysgard that it's in danger of breaking off of the Outlands and drifting into Ysgard, a fate that the local inhabitants think is awesome.

This setting concept, that locations in one plane can drift towards other planes, is emblematic of Planescape's worldbuilding. At first glance, it's interesting and has a lot of adventure potential - this town is drifting, some people want to accelerate it and other people want to stop it, that's where the PCs come in. But dig even a little deeper and the necessary logistical infrastructure just isn't there.

Why should one plane care whether a town drifts into it or not? All the planes are infinite. And they remain infinite after the shifts in territory. Maybe the people in the town might care, but . . .

If the people of Glorium wanted to live in a town in Ysgard, they could have just built a town in Ysgard. That's allowed. In fact, it's more than allowed, it's suggested. In the section on portals, the book casually drops the bombshell, "a permanent portal might . . . land them in a field on Elysium, not far from a small keep they've built."

Holy shit.

"Mortal people, colonizing heaven and hell" is a fucking amazing campaign pitch. Heaven is a real, literal place, and you can physically go there, and you can build a house, by like, picking up rocks and shit, and you can live out the rest of your life in paradise. People have already done this. Nothing in my collection even comes close to the potential there is in this concept.

And yet Planescape doesn't quite seem to comprehend the scope of that potential. It pays lip service to ideology as a setting element, but doesn't seem to understand what ideology is for. There's a group called the Xaositects and the main thing we know about them is that they like to jumble up the words in their sentences ("annoying this not is") and occasionally they appear to be able to pronounce the wingdings font (at least, if the quotes where they use it are to be believed). How is this something that people are interested in participating in? 

There's almost no effort spent in grounding this setting in practical human concerns. The factions are all about the meaning of existence and not, say, the best way to get everyone food and shelter, or what to do with all this magic that's flying around, or even the fate of souls in the afterlife, an issue they are able to directly investigate by going to the afterlife and seeing what happens to souls.

I wonder what Planescape would be like if it did focus on those concerns. Cities slide into adjacent planes if they don't fit well enough into their home plane. People can build cities inside the paradise realms of the Upper Planes. I'm picturing a region of the Outlands called "The Fallen Cities," places that were originally Upper Planes colonies until they slid away, thanks to the inhabitants impurity and mortal frailty. What are these places like? Are they unusually holy, even in their fallen state, or have they curdled into bitterness and resentment? What is the regional culture like, among these people who have tasted heaven and been found wanting? Do they draw Outlands petitioners who might wish to piggyback on their attempts to reclaim their prior place?

Similarly, I'm picturing cities on the threshold of the Lower Planes. They would have the opposite problem. The demons and devils would want to have outposts outside hell so they can attract people who are obviously too smart to physically enter a hell realm, and prefer to safely deal with fiends from neutral territory. These outposts would offer infernal gold and underworld gems in exchange for captured souls and favors performed in the material world, but by their very nature they would stoke the greed and cruelty of their inhabitants, placing their wicked patrons in the ironic position of having to find ways of leavening their assets with imported goodness. What are the different strategies for achieving this result?

I've complained a lot about Planescape in this post, but I'm still prepared to say it's one of my favorite campaign settings. I think it's because all my complaints are "fertile" complaints. It's easy for me to see "solutions" to its "problems" and from those solutions indefinitely riff on all sorts of new adventure and setting ideas. Like, it's kind of weird and upsetting the way the character race list has been pruned down to humans and some completely novel fantasy creatures that TSR is now able to trademark. Don't get me wrong. I really like tieflings, and githzerai are kind of cool, and bariurs . . . well, I don't dislike them, even if I totally get why they never gained traction (weaker, less iconic centaurs who have sheep for their lower halves and have a frankly upsetting degree of gender dimorphism), but if Planescape is really the game it says it is, then there should be a hundred different options. Not just elves and dwarves, but really outre stuff like the kangaroo people from kangaroo world. Everything from every published campaign setting, plus a bunch of stuff that was never published. Dig deep, TSR, I know you must have said "no" to a few dozen pitches before you settled on Planescape.

But, like I said, this is easily solved. "The Complete Book of Humanoids is legal and you don't have to justify shit." You want to be a goblin paladin from a world where goblins are lawful good and dwarves are servants of the dark lord? Approved.

And I don't know, maybe it's wrong of me to give so much credit to a fixer-upper setting like this. A lot of what I'm enjoying about this campaign is stuff I invented for myself, but I meant it when I said this game blew my mind as a teenager. A lot of what I loved about it turned out to be superficial window-dressing, but that's okay because I was only able to appreciate it on a superficial level. The cant has a rhythm and music to it, makes the books sound like they're being whispered to me in a seedy bar. The razor vines and the cutting gaze of the Lady of Pain were both literally and figuratively edgy. You could get tattoos of that shit. It was an rpg book that was giving me permission to be weird and cynical, even if, in later years, I'd discover that it wasn't nearly as weird and cynical as it could have been.

Ukss Contribution: Also, there's a lot of stuff that's just really cool. We don't always have to be looking for the implications of things. Dead gods in the astral plane. Universe-sized lightning storms. Mysterious strangers who are just a little bit demonic. It's actually a bit hard to choose.

I'm going to go with Nic'Epona - they're rainbow colored horses who can travel between planes and who may be tamed with the power of friendship. They're not necessarily my absolute favorite, but Ukss already has talking horses and a region that has been corrupted by extradimensional color, so I've got a perfect niche for them.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

This Title Is Probably Not A Clue

It's approximately 3 months after I released a fiction anthology, and in that time, it's sold approximately 3 copies. I'm beginning to think I may not be the brilliant rogue underground publisher I thought I was when I decided to recklessly spend your tax dollars.

Nevertheless, the writers I hired did some amazing work and it would be a damn shame if it never gets read, so here's the book for free.

And look, I'm not saying you are under any obligation to later go back and buy a copy off amazon if you happened to enjoy it, but I am saying that you should definitely trick your friends into doing so.

Friday, August 20, 2021

(Earthdawn 1e) Earthdawn Survival Guide

 It's Earthdawn's answer to AD&D's Wilderness Survival Guide and I feel like the predictable thing for me to do is point out how it's better, but that would be misleading. It is better, but mostly because there's less of it. Don't get me wrong, it's well-written, but the confluence of subject matter with FASA's fiction-driven style means we're subject to the part of the bildungsroman where the callow young hero learns the most efficient way to pack for a camping trip. Later on, a book within the book will describe herbs.

It's the exact same incomprehensible vision that drives the Wilderness Survival Guide, but instead of 5 pages of rules for food gathering, breaking it down between plants, fish, and terrestrial animals, it's 5 paragraphs that amount to "roll high to not die."  Like I said, it's better because there's less of it. 

Or is it? If we're talking about a campaign model where you can go out into the middle of nowhere and die because you didn't add the right items to your equipment list, then maybe there's a place for that extravagance. The more rules there are, the more ways there are for you to die, and thus the more ways for you to avoid that death by, like, eating a fish or something.

Certainly, if this were a combat-focused book, I'd say that bigger is better. But that's because combat is a central element in nearly every rpg out there. Different foes have different feels and require different strategies, because that's baked into the numbers on your character sheet and the powers you have access to. It would require bottom-up design to make a game that was as focused on survival and exploration.

The Earthdawn Survival Guide is not that game, however. It makes an effort, but it never really offers a payoff for its rules. The things you care about, the events and people that drive the story, are still found in between all these bouts of wilderness travel, and the book doesn't make a very good case for why it's cool when you arrive at the dungeon half-dead from starvation, or when you surive the dungeon and wind up getting killed by the weather.

I think it's the fluid nature of time in rpgs that makes survival so difficult to use as a story element. Time compresses between each significant event and expands when such events happen in rapid succession. Thus, a two minute fight can stretch out to an entire session, because each jab and block and dodge gets individually called out, whereas a two month voyage can last roughly as long as it takes to say, "you travel for two months without incident." You can extend the time you spend in the voyage by slicing the abstract "travel" into more concrete actions like gathering food or taking shelter from the weather, but are you really going to subject your players to the 60 distinct foraging rolls? Do you have what it takes to make, "the day when we couldn't make much progress because of the rain," into a memorable setpiece, comparable with delving into monster-infested ruins?

Obviously not. So you're still going to wind up handling the voyage with abstraction, compromising at some point between dismissing the entire trip in a single line of downtime and running the whole thing in turn-by-turn initiative order, but unfortunately, the book doesn't really help you narrow in on where exactly that compromise should be. It just gives you some numbers to roll and some status effects to impose.

But at least it's short. The rules take up 30 out of 119 pages, and that's enough. The bulk of the book is fiction, which is of mixed utility. The parts where the narrators encounter completely mundane hazards like snowstorms or muggings are immersive enough, but I kind of feel like I don't need to be reminded to wear boots or not flash my money. As the GM, I would also feel like a total jerk if I enforced those strictures on my players. But I liked the parts where it described fantasy dangers like breathing True Air or previously undetailed regions like the Wastes or the Badlands. It expanded the world in some interesting ways and offered new potential adventure ideas.

Overall, I'd say that this is a decent enough book for the concept, but the concept itself was too weak to support a book. The new locations could have supported a supplement (I especially liked the Poison Woods, where all the plants and animals are undead), and the hazards could have been part of the core rules, but the parts with potential were too short and the parts with the rules were too long. I enjoyed reading the fiction, but I have little interest in using the book in a game.

Ukss Contribution: It's revealed in this book that windlings, the foot and a half tall fairy creatures, will hunt boar. Considering that boar hunting is a dangerous pastime for even burly, full-grown humans, this is an absolutely wild image. I have no idea how a creature that small is ever going to take down one of the orneriest animals ever to live, even if there's a whole horde of them, but I love mock epics and would be happy to see them try.

Monday, August 16, 2021

(Earthdawn 1e)Throal: the Dwarf Kingdom

 These good books are always the hardest for me to write about. Throal: the Dwarf Kingdom is better than decent, but it's not great. It's not even "great, but flawed." It's just a skillfully made rpg supplement. It's got a good high concept and it's executed well.

And maybe, if I were a more skillful critic, that's something I could get some mileage out of. These old Earthdawn books are very consistent about punching above their weight class. Don't you see, it's a dwarf kingdom and it's underground, but the book is largely about the king's relatives, and sometimes the drama at the library. . . and I would not blame you one bit for nodding off in the middle of that sentence.

The wild thing about this book, though, is that my snarky description was not all that reductive, despite giving the entirely wrong impression. I suspect I would have finished this book in two days, had I not been hit with a flare up of depression, and yet, if I were to tell you what captured my interest, it would be nonsense like, "some people know about the king's mysterious illness and other people don't," and "some people respect the young prince, and other people don't" and the ever-popular "some people are in favor of the kingdom's liberal reforms, and other people aren't."

I think at this point I have to acknowledge that I might have a greater than average investment in the story of Barsaive. I'm 8 books away from a full 1st edition collection, and it's practically a certainty that I'm going to eventually get those missing volumes. I'm exactly the sort of fan that FASA was deliberately trying to cultivate, and this book was aimed more or less exactly at people like me. The introduction says it best, "Throal: the Dwarf Kingdom is a transitional product in the Earthdawn line. In addition to providing gamemasters with basic information on the center of recovering civilization in Barsaive, it sets up several conflicts to be developed in subsequent Earthdawn products."

All aboard the metaplot train, people!

However, I don't think that's it. I think this book's strengths lie in intangibles like pacing and editorial focus. There are descriptions of various locations and NPCs and they strike a nice balance between having enough detail to make them all distinct, but not being so long as to wear out their welcome. And interspersed are plenty of adventure suggestions, giving you ideas about how to use all the stuff you've just been reading about. In other words, nothing that should surprise you, but rather the fundamentals of the genre, done well.

But even that's not entirely it. I can't stress enough how this is a book about an underground dwarf kingdom with elaborate laws and a well-developed culture of craftsmanship, because if you lose sight of how extremely conventional it all is, you won't be able to experience the dissonance that comes with it also being somehow 100% distinctly Earthdawn.

Here's a relevant quote:

Longtime residents of Throal tend to see the Royal Guards as their friends and protectors, a role the guards cherish. When dealing with citizens disposed to like and trust them, they uphold public order in a firm, but cheerful manner . . . 

In the new cities, the guards frequently take a harder approach, sometimes even coming to regard the people they are protecting as their enemies.

A lot of settings have fantasy racism, but Earthdawn is one of the few to have fantasy structural racism. And that's a deliberate aesthetic choice. Throal is the dwarf kingdom, but all of the other fantasy races live there, to some degree, and the book takes the time to work out what that might be like. It's not a deep dive or anything, but I'm hard pressed to think of another example of "the cops will hassle you if you're a minority," even in more cynical works. The effect can sometimes make the connection between fantasy races and real world minorities seem overly explicit (there's a section about orkish difficulties with educational attainment in a dwarf-dominated school system that is a bit . . . uncomfortable), but that same connection also leads to the Earthdawn books treating their fantasy creatures like actual people. It would take a keener social observer than me to really untangle these books and work out what they're trying to do, but it is definitely distinct.

It's tough for me because in a lot of ways I'm grading on a curve, and when the contrast is, say, Forgotten Realms' treatment of regions like the Vast, it's easy for me to say "this is self-aware and socially conscious," but it's also a book that has a character say that Throal has "a civilizing mission" and then the OOC narration acknowledged that he was talking bullshit, but was "not far off the mark." Throal's whole deal is spreading its watered down monarchist liberalism through cultural imperialism, and the book doesn't have the vocabulary (or perhaps the inclination) to critique that. But also, there are plenty of people who resist or resent Throal's influence and they're not entirely villainous, so I don't know. 

Hey! Look over there! It's a bar called "The Tattooed Human." How hilarious is that?

If I had a complaint about this book, it would be that I wished it would lean a bit more into the setting's post-apocalyptic elements. What you've got is, in essence, a giant, city-sized fallout shelter and right outside its doors is a ramshackle settlement called "Bartertown," and it works well enough as a fantasy location, but if it used a few more relevant tropes, the concept could really sing. Parlainth: the Forgotten City dared to be a western and it was one of the best campaign books I've ever read. Throal: the Dwarf Kingdom is pretty darned good, but it lacks that level of ambition.

Ukss Contribution: There's a group called "The Mirage." They believe that the material world is an illusion and that suffering is caused by an alienation from a person's true spiritual existence. It's mostly a benign religious movement that offers solace to its followers, but there's an offshoot that's all like "nothing is real, which means that every shitty thing I do is an illusion, might as well just indulge my worst impulses." There's not a lot of depth to it, but I like "the Mirage" as a name for a criminal organization.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The Well

Where to get it: Creator's website

What's this, an actual physical object, sent to me by a blog reader? I am so completely honored and humbled that I'm going to feel like a real ass if I have to say anything bad about it. . .

Lucky for me, then, that The Well is pretty great. First of all, it's just gorgeous as an artifact. It uses black and white to a very striking effect, especially with the pencil-style monster drawings, and I don't know much about paper, but the cover is very smooth and pleasing to the touch. I'm not sure there's really such a thing as a prestige softcover, but if there is, then this is it.

The system is slight, almost to the point of nonexistence, but it's also extremely clever. For most actions, you roll a single d6 against a target number, but you can get bonuses by risking injury to your character, giving even routine rolls a sense of genuine stakes. And if you fail a roll, your failed roll still reduces the difficulty of future attempts for the same task.

It gets to the heart of rpg mechanics as a decision engine - you roll the dice to determine whether the GM has permission to say "yes" or "no." Except, in this game, the GM's options are more like "yes" and "later." True failure is always going to be on the players' terms. "Success" is inevitable, but both time and risk are resources that can run out, and a big part of the game's strategy lies in recognizing when an action will take too long or result in too much Stress.

It's elegant the way the mechanics mesh with the story. You play "gravediggers," a grudgingly legal class of mercenary adventurers who venture into undead-haunted catacombs. It's an important civic task, because the undead are a serious threat to human life, but your only pay is the treasure you manage to loot from the tombs of your ancestors. The system guarantees that you'll have plenty of ability to push farther and farther into the ruins of the past, but also ensures that if you press your luck too far, you'll wind up limping home while terribly injured, permanently traumatized or, worst of all, empty-handed.

The feeling I get, especially with the provided GM tools, is of a roguelike video game. Which I guess brings us full circle, because roguelikes themselves were inspired by tabletop dungeon crawls. The Well is a game of managed risk and careful resource management that hearkens back to the earliest forms of the hobby while still honoring a more modern, improv-esque social contract of "yes, and." It's a lot to pack into 120 pages, and if there's one thing I admire most about this book, it's the economy of wordcount. There are a lot of potential adventures in this little book, and plenty of room to grow both the setting and the system, whether in homebrew material or official supplements (I could easily use 101 more treasures or a full bestiary, for example).

Which brings us to the setting. I liked it, but it was thoroughly contrived. No, wait, that's not right. I liked it because it was thoroughly contrived. That's the part that reminded me most of a roguelike,actually. You've got this gameplay loop that obviously came first, and then an entire world built around it. In this case, literally.

The titular "Well" is a giant hollow shaft going an indefinite distance underground. It's ringed by a spiral staircase and every so often, a door appears. It's unclear where these doors came from, and at first, there's nothing behind them, but through judicious use of magic and brute force, human beings can tunnel out an elaborate civilization, which they have to do constantly, because there's some mysterious force that reanimates the dead as flesh-hungry monsters. Every 50-100 years or so, the people of Bastion have to abandon the top layer of their city and migrate down the Well, lest the dead overwhelm the living (and they can't just burn the bodies, because that leads to something worse).

The setup, then, is that the higher you go in the Well, the farther back in human history you go, to old abandoned cities, filled with reanimated corpses that have had centuries to grow in power and mutate into strange new forms. I.e. it's "an environment that justifies the simple tradition of higher levels being more dangerous."

It's more of a clever answer to a riddle than it is spectacular worldbuilding,and despite the sidebars' suggestions, I don't think it's even possible to come up with satisfying answers to the setting's big mysteries (chief of which is, of course, "what's the deal with this big, fucking well"). However, clever counts for a lot, and Bastion is a fine base of operations, with just enough intrigue to give your between-dungeon-crawls downtime a necessary bit of spice. Every setting should be lucky enough to have such a well-drawn Adventure Town.

Overall, I'd say that The Well is exactly the sort of book I love having in my collection, while also being exactly the sort of book I'd never think to buy myself. It's going to have a pride of place in my collection.

Ukss Contribution: A lot of the most interesting stuff about this setting lies in the ways people adapt to living around a giant, underground well. However, there are a few more general things that could fit in nearly any fantasy setting. My favorite was the "Mysterious Metal Lozenge." Swallow it and it will heal any single wound, even going so far as to replace lost limbs with strange, living metal prostheses. A priceless treasure, to be sure, but an even cooler bit of fantasy imagery. More games should make their utility effects this otherworldly.