Who’s your Nahual (guardian or totem animal)?

A Nahual (in Nahuatl: Nahualli ‘hidden, concealed, disguise’) is a guardian or totem animal. Each person, at the moment of birth, has the spirit of an animal, which is in charge of protecting and guiding him/her. These spirits usually manifest themselves only in dreams or visions, or with a certain affinity to the animal that took the person as its protégé.

When you create a new character, roll on this table to find out who’s your Nahual and the gift it gives you. Optionally, you can receive one of these gifts if you make a pact with a spirit animal, who then becomes your Nahual.

Roll 1d10

  1. Centzuntli, the one with four hundred voices (mockingbird). You have a beautiful voice and can make a living singing or giving speeches. Look for your highest ability, now your charisma has the same value. If charisma was already your highest ability, add one point; if it reaches 19, your modifier is +4.
  2. Tlotl (sparrowhawk). You have excellent eyes and Spirit Sight: You can make a Search roll (modified by wisdom) to see the spirits of the dead, if there’s one present, but you have to roll again to leave this state. A failure means you have to wait a turn before you can roll again. While in this state, you can talk to the dead.
  3. Axolotl, the water monster. Once you come of age, you never get old and never lose your smile. When you sleep, you recover one extra hit point. If you lose a limb, there’s a 1-in-6 chance (modified by your constitution) you can regenerate it whole in 1d4+6 days, but you need to rest during this time.
  4. Koyotl (coyote). You have a great ability to adapt and it is not easy to kill you. When you die for the first time, you are left for dead, but at the end of the combat, you’re miraculously still alive and retain one hp. From the second death, you must pass a saving throw vs. poison with a penalty equal to your current level (at level 2, the penalty is -2, at level 5 it is -5, and so on).
  5. Tekolotl (owl). You are a bird of ill omen, wherever you go, something bad will inevitably happen. But you’re also wise and can smell death in the living. When you create your character, you gain one point of wisdom. You can make a Bushcraft roll (modified by wisdom) to determine if a person will die within the next 48 hours.
  6. Tsinakan (bat). You have two great loves: night and sex. Sex is at your discretion, but during the night, all your rolls related to exploration have a +1 bonus. In the dark you don’t have better vision than others, but you do have a better sense of direction, and you always know where the south is, and therefore, the other cardinal points.
  7. Sayolin (fly). You grew up in a filthy plaza, where you could see pieces of old mats, shoes and hats in the streets. The uneven cobblestones, the mud in times of rain, the filth in plain sight, the dishonesty in all its impudence, the rotting cooked meats being sold, the insects attacking the people, the most insufferable stenches made the square a truly shameful place. In these environments, your charisma and wisdom gain a temporary bonus of +1. Once per day, you can summon a swarm of flies that will attack a target, causing damage equal to your first HD; you gain the same number of hp.
  8. Xoloitzcuintle (hairless dog). You are smaller than average, which grants you an extra +1 bonus to your AC. You are really good at hiding, which grants you one extra point to your Stealth skill.
  9. Tlakamaye (bear). Once a month, you can invoke the help of your Nahual for a maximum of one hour. It can participate in combat or provide other non-humiliating help (it’s not a beast of burden). If the favor you ask is humiliating, it will abandon you and you will never be able to call it again. If your Nahual dies while helping you, make a saving throw against magic for each ability greater than twelve. Each failure means that the value of your ability becomes its opposite, 13 becomes 8, 16 becomes 5, 18 becomes 3, and so on.
  10. Ozomatli (monkey). Your mother died giving birth to you, you were sent to an orphanage or a monastery, where your origin was kept secret: you are of nobility, but you have no way to prove it. Queen Ñuñuu Dzico-Coo-Yodzo (Lady Six Monkey) appeared to you in a dream and revealed the truth of your origin. During character creation, choose one: Immediately gain Climb +3 or Sleight of Hand +3.

Note: Skills are based on LotFP’s Specialist skills. Click here for how to convert to vanilla Thief or Rogue.

Communion: At your referee’s choice, you are visited by your Nahual, either in dreams, hallucinations, or even in real life. In either case, your Nahual will offer guidance, advice or protection (maybe a magical +2 AC, whatever makes sense).

Hacking skill for OSR games

One thing I hate about modern (and not-so-modern) cyberpunk games is their over-reliance on rules. Rules, rules, rules, rules, multiple rules, multiple systems and subsystems that steal the fun out of the game. Do you really require the whole netrunning/interface subsystem in a game like Cyberpunk 2020?

I don’t know. Maybe?

But in an OSR game you don’t need all that complexity, you just need to get a result of 1 on a 6-sided die to hack a system. There, that’s it.

Almost.

Take into account that such a roll takes time. Let’s say it’s just like a search traps roll, requiring one turn, which means an encounter could occur during the process.

  • Hacking. You have a probability of success of 1-in-6, modified by your INT. A negative value means that the roll must be made on a d10.
  • Turns. This roll takes one turn (10 minutes) and you can’t do any other activity while attempting a hack.
  • Failure. At the referee’s discretion, you may attempt this roll as many times as necessary, have a limit of attempts before the system crashes and you can no longer attempt it, or a single attempt at this specific terminal.
  • Encounters. At the same time, the referee may make an encounter roll. If an encounter occurs, you’re automatically taken by surprise, but the referee must determine if the rest of your group is also taken by surprise.
  • Damage. If you are attacked and suffer damage, the hacking roll automatically fails.

If this is too easy, remember that there may be advanced operating systems, which require more time and are more difficult to hack. (I used this system in my Esoteric Enterprises campaign; in that game you have a Technology skill, which I required for hacking; it worked fine but it was not a cyberpunk setting, just a real-life hacking).

  • Hacking. You must get two successful rolls (1-in-6 twice), modified by your INT. A negative value means that the roll must be made on a d10.
  • Turns. Each roll takes one turn (10 minutes) and you can’t do any other activity during a hacking roll.
  • Chances. You have a maximum of 3 chances to obtain the required two successes. If you reach this limit without enough successes, you will be logged off of the system and someone will notice your presence.
  • Encounters. At the same time, the referee may make an encounter roll. If an encounter occurs, you’re automatically taken by surprise, but the referee must determine if the rest of your group is also taken by surprise.
  • Damage. If you are attacked and suffer damage, the hacking roll automatically fails.

 

Monsters should break the rules

What makes a monster a monster and not just a particularly ugly or strange animal? It doesn’t seem like a difficult question, but entire books have been written to try to answer it*. Leafing through some of these texts, we find several interesting things.

1. A monster is menacing

The monster in a work of fiction can be friendly (Monsters Inc.), heroic (Swamp Thing), genial (The Munster Family), ridiculous (Scooby-Doo). But in horror, which is generally intended to frighten, or cause discomfort or discomfort to the reader, the most notable characteristic of this creature is to be menacing, i.e. dangerous.

A) Dangerous in a concrete way

The most direct way to make a monster dangerous is to make it lethal. A creature that can kill or maim is a good example of a menacing monster. Literature is full of them: The cenobites in The Hell-bound Heart (Clive Barker), the human/fish hybrids in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” (H.P. Lovecraft), the monster in Frankenstein (Mary Shelley), the vampire in Dracula (Bram Stoker), the daddy in The Shining (Stephen King), the mansion in The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson), even the cat in “The Black Cat” (Edgar Allan Poe).

The monster in literature can be an ordinary human (King), a supernatural being (Barker, Stoker), an animal (Poe), an object or thing (Jackson) or what we would call an aberration (Lovecraft, Shelley).

B) Dangerous in an abstract way

Sometimes, the monster is not physically menacing, but psychologically, morally or socially. They’re beings that don’t destroy the body (or not only the body), but the identity (“The Horla” by Guy de Maupassant), that disrupt the established moral order (Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite), or that seek to impose a new social order (“The Shadow Over Innsmouth”).

Also menacing are monsters that reactivate in the protagonist and the reader some childhood fears, such as the fear of being devoured or castration (Stephen King’s It; Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes), or that threaten to make sexual fears and traumas conscious (Joseph Sheridan le Fanu’s Carmilla; Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper”).

2. A monsters is impure

A common characteristic among monsters in horror literature is the repulsion they cause on a physical level; in other words, the protagonists of these stories react with disgust or rejection to these creatures, and do their best not to come into contact with them. This is due to the interstitial or contradictory nature of monsters, which present a conflict between two or more cultural categories. It is like being in the presence of dirt or human waste in a space that should be clean, such as a kitchen or living room.

The impurity of literary monsters, is achieved in 5 different ways, to wit:

A) Fusion

Fusion activates conflict through the combination of two or more opposing cultural categories, which may be visually perceptible or of an ontological order, for example: life/death (vampires, mummies, zombies); animal/human (“The Fly” by G. Langelaan; the pig men in William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland); animate/inanimate (haunted houses, the puzzle in The Hell-bound Heart); intelligence/instinct (“The Black Cat”); tangible/intangible (“The Horla”); innocence/evil (“The Decapitated Chicken” by Horacio Quiroga).

Fusion is constructed by condensing two or more opposites in the same character (or object), which in horror literature can be none other than the monster.

B) Fission

In the case of fission, the contradictory elements are distributed in different but metaphysically related entities, as occurs with the double or the changeling.

Temporal fission. Fission divides a being in time. For example, the figure of the werewolf, where beast and human occupy the same space/body, but at different times; this monster embodies a categorical contradiction (animal/human) that is distributed in time. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the most famous example of a monster created through temporal fission.

Spatial fission. This is two separate but related bodies, a fission that divides a being in space, multiplying it. For example, the double in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey, or any work about the doppelgänger. This fission takes place in two modalities:

  • The double. It represents the dark, the hidden or repressed that comes to light, and causes horror by contradicting accepted cultural, moral or social categories. The double performs the evil acts that the original would not commit. Poe’s “William Wilson” and E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Devil’s Elixirs are examples of this form of fission.
  • The imposter. The monster is either a replacement for the original (usually human), or an impostor trying to impersonate it. If the impostor really is, it is an emotionless being. If there’s been no such replacement, and it’s only imagined by someone, it’s a psychotic disorder, known as Capgras Syndrome. Horror comes into play when the boundaries between the two are unclear. The Case of Lovecraft’s Charles Dexter Ward is paradigmatic on the subject of the impostor.

These divisions turn the characters into symbols representing categorically distinct or opposing elements, while in the fusions, contradictory elements are amalgamated into a single symbol that contains them. Condensation and division allow for the projection of themes of interstitiality, cultural contradictions and impurity.

C) Magnification

To cause horror, we can take a real creature, associated with a feeling of revulsion, or that has unpleasant characteristics from a cultural point of view, and increase its size considerably. Giant spiders would be the most obvious choice. Spiders are creatures that cause repulsion to most people even at their original size. Increasing their dimensions, even to the size of a dog, let alone a building, has the power to increase the horror experienced. An example of a larger than normal, though not colossal, spider is found in M.R. James’ “The Ash-tree,” and in Brian Lumley’s “Cement Surroundings,” there are some huge worms.

*Reduction. One variation is reduction, as evidenced by stories about goblins and evil elves, or Horacio Quiroga’s “The Feather Pillow”, where the typical vampire figure is taken and reduced to the size of an insect.

D) Multiplication

Instead of taking these beings and making them giants, it’s a matter of multiplying them in number. The mass of these creatures becomes the monster. Attacks by spiders, ants, locusts and rats are among the most popular. These hordes not only cause distress because of their repulsive nature, but are driven by an evil intelligence that seems to seek the annihilation of human beings. Lovecraft’s story “The Rats in the Walls” comes to mind, as does Hodgson’s “The Voice in the Night,” where evil fungi sprout everywhere and threaten to cover the entire world.

E) Horrific metonymy

The monster doesn’t need to be repulsive in itself, it’s enough that it relates to repulsive beings and objects to cause horror. Count Dracula is a figure who, physically, does not appear abnormal, and in some readings may even appear seductive, but he surrounds himself with rats and other nauseating creatures, which’s enough to make him repulsive by association.

In Clive Barker’s The Damnation Game, the monster has a normal appearance, but his assistant is a zombie who throughout the novel goes through a process of putrefaction that consumes him more and more. In “The Abominations of Yondo” by Clark Ashton Smith, the monster is the desert of Yondo which, although not a living being, becomes a cause of horror because of its association with all kinds of abominations, such as corpse-colored insects that chase the protagonist, to the eyeless creature similar to a dog and at the same time to a spider, which tries to hunt him using its sense of smell.

3. So… break the rules

A monster must be, by default, threatening, this is achieved by making it dangerous. A monster can also be impure. Impurity is what turns a monster into a monster of horror. This is achieved through: Fusion and fission, which allow the creation of horror biologies; magnification and multiplication, which are ways of increasing the power of creatures already associated with repulsive feelings and rejection; and horrific metonymy, which is a way of emphasizing the impure nature of a creature by associating it with reviled beings and objects. Monsters in horror literature are a compound of danger and disgust.

Some of the most interesting creatures are those that use more than one of these categories. In the aforementioned “Las abominaciones de Yondo” we not only have the metonymy of horror by associating the desert with repulsive beings, we also have the multiplication by multiplying the horrors that the protagonist encounters. In the same way, Dracula is not only a repulsive being by association with rats and spiders, he also incurs in fusion by being an undead, and in temporal fission, by becoming a wolf.

Monsters break the reality rules of fiction. In the same way, monsters in a role-playing game, if we want them really scary and horrifying, must break the rules of the reality of this other fiction. A monster is not created in the same way as a player character and should not follow the same rules.

If you wish, a monster can attack several times, or regenerate its life points, or be immune to certain kinds of attacks, or whatever madness comes to mind. Of course, in the hands of a fair and impartial referee, a monster, even if it breaks the rules of reality, will not break its own rules.

*Suggested reading: Noël Carroll, The Philosophy of Horror Or, Paradoxes of the Heart; Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo; W. Scott Poole, Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting; y Phillip Athans, Writing Monsters.

Now go make some nasty monsters!

Suggested soundtrack

How to run urban adventures, the easy way

To make a long story short, every time the adventurers go from one neighborhood or sector to another, or every hour they spend in the streets, the referee must make an encounter roll, and if an encounter occurs, she must use a table designed specifically for the city, or she can use Chris Gonnerman’s table in Basic Fantasy RPG (p. 146).

Each city has at least one point of interest that can be turned into an adventure. These places must be actively sought, but can also be found randomly, if included in the encounter table: Normally the graveyard is a quiet space, but some nights (perhaps an encounter roll is required) it is possible to see dark shadows inside. The inhabitants prefer to ignore them, but if the adventurers decide to poke their noses in, what will they find? Looters? Body snatchers? Anthropophaghoul? The monks of the monastery engaged in, ahem, illicit activities? These kinds of encounters must be planned in advance, perhaps foreshadowed on your rumors table.

There, that’s it.

Some details:

Normally, an encounter occurs on a result of 1 on a d6, but this probability may be higher at night or in cities of high danger.

In a densely populated city, where the neighborhoods are of considerable size, two or even three encounter rolls can be made every hour.

An adventure starts when there is something at stake. If the adventurers are simply looking for supplies and lodging, the encounter roll should be omitted, especially if they are not interested in having adventures right now.

If they seek refuge and are being chased by the town guard, that’s an adventure.

If the adventurers ask a villager where they can find a cheese wheel, the villager will give them directions, and it’s not an adventure. If they don’t ask and decide to explore the town, then it’s probably an adventure.

The first time they visit an unfamiliar city, it may be an adventure.

Villages and shantytowns don’t have a neighborhood structure, but it’s easy to divide them into two, three or four parts, just for the purpose of running an adventure.

Why I can’t stop thinking about Yakuza: Like a Dragon?

I can’t stop thinking about Yakuza 7, better known as Yakuza: Like a Dragon, even after a few months since I finished the game. I know why. Because I was 41, almost 42 when I played it, and it’s a game about men and women in their 40s and 50s who have lost everything, but found hope and meaning in their brand new friendship.

I love classic style, turn-based JRPGs. Most of these games star children or teenagers with whom I have very little in common, and the stories revolve around killing god and saving the world, which I can’t relate to either. I really needed Yakuza 7, and it came to me at the right time.

I didn’t lose everything, but I quit a long-time job and used the little money I had saved during the pandemic to start my own small business: a candy store, not that different to Eri Kamataki’s store, Ichiban Confections, which our Hero helps save from bankruptcy.

It was scary, quitting a job like that, at my age, and after many years. But also exciting. Almost a year later, I can say for certain it was the right decision for me to make. The downside is I’m eating more candy than I should!

It felt weird to quit a job when I was about to turn 41, to force myself to start over. But when I played this game a few months after I started the confectionery, I understood that your age doesn’t determine how you should act, where you should be in life.

It taught me to not be ashamed of my previous failure (if you can consider being unable to stand capitalism’s working conditions any more a failure) but proud.

And that’s why I will always remember Ichiban, Adachi, Nanba and Saeko fondly.

The Dark, the Weird and the Sublime

The Dark

The dark hates the players; you play the dark. You will probably forget that a candle has a ten foot radius but you will never stop waiting for the candle to go out.
Patrick Stuart

From time to time something unexpected happens in our life or our environment. It’s not something extraordinary but mundane, but very easy to miss. And because it’s so easy to overlook, the first time you experience it, it’s amazing.

I once visited a cave.

Huasca de Ocampo, in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico, is a tourist town (or Pueblo Mágico, as they call them around here). Its main attraction is its huge ecological park. There are recreational activities, a large lake in the middle of the forest, virgin springs and a trout farm where you can catch your own food. Ah, yes! And also a cave that you can visit.

The Cueva del Duende (Leprechaun’s Cave) is only a minor attraction. For a very modest fee, the attendant lends you a battery-powered lamp and lets you enter the cave all alone (it’s a small cave, more like a tunnel; it’s really not a dangerous place). The rules are very simple and straightforward: “Do not turn off the lamp at any time”.

I, of course, could not pass up the opportunity presented to me. When the entrance to the cave had disappeared behind me, that is, when daylight no longer reached the cave’s interior, I turned off the lamp and… Holy shit!

Reality Testing

But, you know, I wasn’t in any real danger. The worst that could happen was that the lamp would not light again and I would have to wait five or ten minutes until the next visitor passed by. What happened was that, after thirty seconds, the reverential terror I felt at experiencing the utter darkness gave way to another, more mundane, and more familiar feeling: boredom. I lit the lamp, which worked perfectly, and continued on until I reached the exit. Then I went to catch a trout, failed and had to buy a previously dead one.

Although ephemeral, the experience of complete darkness has served me well for two things, mainly: writing fiction and running dungeon adventures. Having known darkness, it’s easier to describe the oppressive atmosphere of a dungeon.

Two years later, reading Veins of the Earth, I relived that moment. Reading this book was an artificial (which is to say: artistic: aesthetic) way of reliving the reverential terror of that experience without having to return to the embarrassing reality of boredom and disinterest, the goofiness of existing and having a body, the awareness that I had to hurry so as not to make a fool of myself, so as not to be “the idiot who turned off the lamp”.

The Sublime

The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature is astonishment.
Edmund Burke

In aesthetic theory, and in contrast to the merely beautiful, the Sublime is the quality of physical, moral, intellectual, metaphysical greatness, beyond all calculation. It’s the capacity of a work or phenomenon to provoke both a feeling of awe and terror, an irrational ecstasy.

The ideas of the Sublime originate in the Greek Pseudo-Longinus, approximately during the first century of the common era, and were rediscovered in the Middle Ages and then again during Romanticism, and it’s from here that they reach us, we of the future.

For Romanticism, the Sublime is the combination of awe and terror provoked by an encounter with the natural world. In his Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Edmund Burke describes the Sublime as astonishment: “Astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other.”

The Sublime is an encounter with the vastness of the world, and that this encounter strips us of all our thoughts, leaving us in pure emotion. It is the feeling that comes from contemplating a violent storm or the landscape from a high mountain. It is not the simple fear, which is caused by the threat of death, but an existential and reverential terror that occurs when we become aware of our insignificance and the immeasurable vastness of the world.

To experience the Sublime, you must eliminate all the pleasures and comforts of the world and make yourself as vulnerable as possible. Or as Burke said, “Vacuity, darkness, solitude, and silence.” For example, the most absolute darkness inside a cave.

Summoning of the Muse

Not only nature is capable of evoking the feeling of the Sublime, art can do it too.
Dead Can Dance’s Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun (which I am listening to as I write this) is, for me, the perfect example of the Sublime.

I don’t know the concept behind the album, and I don’t want to know it so as not to ruin my own interpretation and experience.

Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun is the equivalent, abbreviated and sonorous, of the Mysteries of Eleusis. It’s an initiation rite practiced by the followers of the religion of Demeter and Persephone.

The initiatory rite was a representation of Demeter’s journey recounted in the Homeric hymn dedicated to the goddess. It included a pilgrimage, a fast, the consumption of an intoxicating drink and the entrance to an enclosure, where the mysteries were revealed. One of the modern theories points out that the mystery was the communion with Demeter herself, a theory of which I am a supporter (I am an atheist, so it’s logical that the appearance of the goddess is merely symbolic).

Dead Can Dance’s album, of short duration (less than forty minutes) reminds me of this rite. The first tracks are sung in English, by Brendan Perry. They serve as an initial guide, they lead us little by little from the normal world to a more mysterious one, out of this world.

The second half, sung by Lisa Gerrard, in her own invented language (glossolalia, apparently), places us squarely in the world of the mythical/symbolic. Even the music has changed, becoming reverential and mysterious, akin to blood-curdling ritual chants.

The penultimate theme is an invocation. We are calling the goddesses.

The last theme is the proper manifestation of the goddesses, or Persephone specifically. The theme, “Persephone (The Gathering Of Flowers)” refers, undoubtedly, to the return of spring and the blooming of flowers.

But it is not a happy or luminous song. It’s dark, mysterious. Even sad and apocalyptic, with instrumentation unlike anything else, on the album or anywhere else (except, perhaps, Final Fantasy VII). In order for Persephone to come back to life, Demeter has agreed to sacrifice her own life and go to the world of the dead, if only for a season.

Those last moments of the track provoke in me that awe and terror that can only be described as the feeling of the sublime. Listening so many times to this album allowed me to understand, at least on an emotional, if not entirely rational level, the Mysteries theory.

Usefulness of the Sublime

According to Burke, the Sublime has the positive effect of making the everyday problems that overwhelm us become trivial. Compared to the black skies of a storm, the raging clouds, the violent winds capable of making the mightiest tree bend and the very ocean itself churn, compared to this, I repeat, what is a traffic jam on the way home from the office?

In an ideal society we would have encounters with the sublime on a regular basis, not just in museums or during the holiday season when traveling. The old religions had it right. The Greeks of Mycenaean times came face to face with Demeter; the sorginak celebrated feasts in the Goat’s Meadow in the company of their goddess, Mari.

After a week’s work, everyone had the opportunity to be confronted with ideas of greatness. Even the Sunday Christian mass would have the same function.

And isn’t this similar to meeting (weekly, biweekly, monthly) to play OSR?

The Weird

The weird is constituted by a presence — the presence of that which does not belong. In some cases of the weird (…) the weird is marked by an exorbitant presence, a teeming which exceeds our capacity to represent it.
Mark Fisher

Into the Weird

In the introduction to The Weird: A compendium or strange and dark stories, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer define the Weird as “the pursuit of some indefinable and perhaps maddeningly unreachable understanding of the world beyond the mundane”. And they complement their definition with Lovecraft’s words: a “certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread”, a “malign and particular suspension or defeat of… fixed laws of Nature”.

Doesn’t this remind us of what was said about the Sublime? But there is a difference. The reverential terror we experience during a storm or in the total darkness of a cave doesn’t seem to us to be malign, nor to be against the laws of nature.

The Weird is the sombre counterpart of the Sublime. This abolition of the natural laws of the universe is astonishing and terrifying, but also incomprehensible. “Reverie or epiphany, yes, but dark reverie or epiphany” (Ann and Jess VanderMeer). After seeing an exhibition of Max Klinger’s etchings in Munich Kubin wrote:

“I was suddenly inundated with visions of pictures in black and white – it is impossible to describe what a thousand-fold treasure my imagination poured out before me. Quickly I left the theater, for the music and the mass of lights now disturbed me, and I wandered aimlessly in the dark streets, overcome and literally ravished by a dark power that conjured up before my mind strange creatures, houses, landscapes, grotesque and frightful situations.” (Emphasis is mine)

It’d be easy to suppose that Kubin expresses the same epiphany that occurs when we are confronted with the Sublime, and in a certain way it is, with the exception that instead of elevating the spirit (in its materialistic sense, as a state of mind; the spirit in the metaphysical sense does not exist), instead of a lesson of humble insignificance, this encounter with the Sublime caused in our author a feeling of disturbance, and this feeling was caused, precisely, by the impossibility of understanding it.
Modern philosophy is born with Descartes, when he asks himself, in reference to knowledge and reason, if it would be possible that he is being deceived by a demon of perversity. Modern philosophy is born from the encounter of philosophy as it had been known until then with the horror of incomprehension.

The Sublime makes us remember or become aware of our finitude. If this awareness is tinged with the horror of the incomprehensible, the Sublime is overshadowed. This somber Sublime is precisely the feeling or the quality of the Weird.

Weirdos

So far this century, the Weird has become quite popular, not only in literature, but also in movies, role-playing games and even philosophy. Authors such as Mark Fisher, Eugene Thacker, Ben Woodard and Graham Harman have systematized the Lovecraftian “philosophy”. Although it’s far from becoming the quintessential new philosophy, its presence and influence on modern culture cannot be denied.

Eugene Thacker is known as the philosopher of horror. When he speaks of horror, he’s not referring to the narrative itself, but to a mood or an atmosphere. This echoes Lovecraft’s definition. The goal of this philosophy of horror is to think about the limits of our ability to know things in the world and our place in it; that is, about the incomprehensible.

Like the Sublime, this kind of horror, which we must call the Weird, places us face to face with the incommensurability of the universe, reminding us of our insignificance; unlike the Sublime, it forces us to think about our place within the universe, but it also makes us aware of our inability to comprehend the non-human world.

The role of food in adventure

These are the rules on the use of food in my campaign world:

  • A ration is equivalent to a more or less correct portion of water and food.
  • An adventurer should take at least one ration per day.
  • Eating three rations in a day gives a +1 bonus the next day on 4 rolls of the referee’s choice.
  • After spending at least two days in a city or town, and enjoying the food, drink and fun that the place has to offer (i.e. after spending a good amount of money), the next time the character goes on an adventure, she will receive a +2 bonus to any roll she chooses, as well as +1 on 4 rolls of the referee’s choice. This benefit remains active as long as the character takes three rations per day. If one day she fails to take her rations, the next day the benefit will disappear.
  • After 3 days* without consuming at least one ration, each day in the morning the character must make a saving throw vs. death. If she fails this roll, the character will be so weak (-2 to all rolls) that she will die of starvation during the night, unless she consumes a ration. If she survives (she succeeded in the roll or ate something), she’ll have a -1 penalty on all rolls of the referee’s choice. This drawback will remain active until she consumes 3 rations in a single day. (*Jonathan Becker has made a good point showing 3 days is way too short a time. He’s right, so these 3 days can actually be any number you think fits your campaign, and some races can keep going without food for longer periods than humans.)

Oh, and when food runs out and PCs start dropping like flies, there are options.

Notes

In reality, this is intended to incentivise spending money, so that characters don’t accumulate such a large amount they could dominate the world.

I honestly haven’t experienced that (starvation), it’s mainly a random number, although I think if it was, say, 6 days (instead of 3 days as written), then it would be irrelevant, as most characters will at least eat some junk before that.

Lost spell book? Get your formulas back!

“Young wizard, I see you have lost your spell book. Yes, a real pity. No doubt you know how you can recover all your spells*. Yes, of course you do. But you need to get that spell back immediately, you say?

Well, all right, I’ll tell you: there is a way. It won’t cost you anything… just your soul. Ha ha, of course I’m joking. To recover your spells, all you have to do is think of the spells you want back and sacrifice something of enormous value.”

Roll 1d6

  1. Your right eye (-1 to -3 on vision-based rolls)
  2. Your left hand (-1 to -3 on rolls requiring the use of both hands or specifically the left hand)
  3. Your tongue (1-in-6 chance of miscast all your spells)
  4. Your memories of youth (-1 to one random ability)
  5. Your good fortune (-1 to all your saving throws)
  6. A loyal or beloved friend or companion
  7. Your identity (no one outside your party remembers you)
  8. Your autonomy (an Outer Being will impose an obligation on you that you must fulfil within a certain time frame; if you fail, you will lose these spells permanently)

After the sacrifice, you recover 1d4 spell levels. For example, if you roll a 4, you can recover four level 1 spells, or two level 2 spells, or one level 4 spell, or any other combination.

This sacrifice is for emergencies only, and doesn’t work for higher level spells.

*1,000 gp and one work week for each level of spell to be recovered.

On the nature of goblins

The life of the peasantry is hard. The taxes are high, the work is exhausting, the rewards are minimal, sometimes non-existent.

The promise of a happy life in “the other world” in exchange for working the land is almost never enough. You have come to wonder why God sends this torment to your children, and you come to doubt His infinite goodness.

When no angel of death comes to strike you down with his bolt of justice in punishment for your doubts, you wonder if there really is a god. And if there isn’t? Are you going to devote your life to serving a man who told you there is a god? Are you just going to take his word for it?

But hunger rages. You, your wife and your fourteen children need something to eat. The work doesn’t provide enough. You must do something.

The idea that there’s no god has settled in your brain, and guilt for thinking so has given way to cynicism. Your children no longer seem like a blessing from heaven, but simply a deception to perpetuate the comfortable life of the few, at the expense of the suffering of the many.

But you’re no fool. That morning you took your two youngest children, went into the forest with them, carried them as far as your courage would carry you and slipped away quietly, stealthily. In a final show of kindness, you allowed them to keep their boots.

You knew your sons were too young to find their way back. But without a god to punish your act of evil, could it really be considered an act of evil? Parents abandoning their children and leaving them to fend for themselves is the rule in the wilderness. What separates you from the animals, now that god is dead?

Eventually you forgot. Or you managed to convince yourself that you had forgotten. Things had improved a bit. Two less mouths in the family meant one more portion on your plate.

And above all, neither god nor the devil had come to claim your soul.

This certainty invaded the minds of others. No one would admit it, but everyone knew that the others had done the same as you: abandoned the youngest in the forest.

The village itself looked different. Maybe having all the children God wanted to bless you with hadn’t been such a great idea. Your neighbours and fellow villagers looked healthier,

This well-being lasted for some time, but it could not last forever. The guard’s shouts woke you up. “The goblins are coming!”

The goblins? No doubt the guard got drunk again during his patrol, it wouldn’t be the first time. But something had to be going on, judging by the commotion in the streets. You peeked out the door. The fire had soon spread. Your house would be consumed in no time. There was no time to do anything for your wife and children.

Then you saw them. Little figures were running around, their mocking, evil laughter overpowering you. A stone in the head put you to sleep. It saved your life.

You awoke with difficulty. You were the only survivor. You watched them walk away. Without daring to sit up, you saw something that made your blood run cold. Two of the strange creatures were wearing your children’s boots.

Goblins are feral kids