On the Great Divination Wizards Guild and the Black Chamber

Guilds are urban creatures.  They cannot survive without cities.  They are parasites on the fantasy body politic, reaching their spider-like legs into the deepest recesses of civic culture.  Although membership is nominally voluntary everyone in town belongs to a guild: the doctors, the barbers, the bakers, the carters, the shoemakers and even the wizards. Especially the wizards. 

Once enrolled one does not lightly leave.

The political powerful and wealthy Greater Guilds represent professions requiring rare and expensive educations.  These powerful civic bodies wield true local power in their trade oriented Free Cities where the Masters of the Guild rule in tiny oligarchic republics without the meddling of Lords.  Between them they divide and rule the Free Cities controlling war, conquest, trade, and industry.  The Free Cities dance in their vice grip.

Within the Free Cities, the wealthiest of the Greater Guilds, Greater Divination Wizard Guild, is an autonomous moral and legal person. It possesses wealth in lands, houses, and money.  It contracts, bargains, binds itself, and a proctor represents it in court.  It built a vast University decorated with Coats-of-Arms. It has seals, banners and archives.  It makes its own internal rules which supersede many local laws for its members and all members of associated, lower Guilds. Within the Free Cities’ jurisdiction, the Greater Divination Wizard Guild is self-governing.  In a pyramid of city power, local lesser local craft guilds swear allegiance to the Greater Divination Wizard Guild for their own benefit and wealth: the wizard reagent reseller guild, the wizard jeweler’s guild, the wizard parchment makers guild who sell watermarked parchment for scrolls, and the wizard’s haberdasheries for highest qualities in wizarding robes and excellent wizarding hats.

Anyone with money, wealth or ambition schemes to join the guild and the easiest way is at the bottom: with apprenticeship.

A wIzard starts as a lowly guild apprentice. All entrants to guilds, greater or lower, mercantile or craft, world-spanning or local, starts with parents offering their precious children at age 10 to Masters on a contractual agreement.  Some contracts result in cash, some in goods in kind, and some in promises around the care of the child. After signing, the child leaves home with precious few personal belongings and enters the world of the Master’s workshop where they learn a trade while doing the Master’s unending bidding.   Some of the Masters of the Guild are kind, but most not; they have to uphold their reputation for turning children into wizards and only eight years for each child.  Eight years are barely time to learn the basics of the wizard’s craft and not enough time for kindness.  Long hours, constant work, uncomfortable conditions, and rote memorization is the norm.  Wizard workshops are brutal places to matriculate.

Not all children have the magic spark. Some lack the talent and the mental agility. The weeding practice is merciless. Master Wizards trade children who fail to quickly display magic to Masters of the lesser craft guilds for anything: goods, money, servants, other apprentices.  Society bars these failed children from the higher strata of their city’s class structure and doom them to a life of labor pressing paper in the wizard guild’s parchment mills or tailoring proper wizard cufflinks.  Failure in the Master’s workshop means a life toiling in service to wizards, never quite belonging to them, knowing you could be one of them, but on the outside forever looking in.  Once in as an apprentice to a Wizard Master – don’t fail.

Those who master enough “passable” cantrips may call themselves wizards and graduate from their Master’s workshop after eight years.  On that day, these new wizards are full dues-paying members of their fraternity for life.  While some newly minted journeyman wizards migrate to the next Free City over in search of work, few ever progress further in their mastery.  Instead they find themselves in lifetime mediocre salaried service to their Greater Divination Wizard Guild in its voracious need for cheap and easy labor: writing detect magic and identify scrolls marked with the watermark of the guild for pay, tied to benches in magic item factories crafting for sale, or offering their clerical services cheaply to the city.  Being a member of the vaunted Great Divination Wizard Guild does not guarantee success: many young wizards exiting the workshops of the Divination Masters find themselves bound for life to identify spell kiosks just outside popular dungeon and monster caves, identifying items and collecting data for unknown Guild Masters.  If they just work harder… 

But it’s good being a loyal guildsman.  The journeymen who do choose to stay journeymen for life exercise a number of perks for membership in a wealthy, powerful guild.  The guild is fraternity of educated men and women.  It’s warm.  It’s welcoming.  For those who quietly toil for their brothers and sisters, the guild provides them with a salary, gives them access to lower craft guild services, throws them banquets on holidays, pays for Church help when they or any of their family are ill, buy rounds of drinks and bails them out of jail when they get into a drunken bar fight, shelters them if they are homeless, gives them a stipend when they are old and pays for their funeral at their end of life.  Members can wear the coat of arms on their wizard robes.  The Great Divination Wizard Guild provides.  Sure, it takes a large cut of whatever the wizard makes but look what a member gets in return! 

Most of these journeyman wizards never progress past First Level. But who would ever want to leave the city or the comfort of the guild?

The Guild Masters encourage those few young journeyman wizards with strong enterprising spirit to go out into the world. Leave the Free Cities. Band with murder-hobos.  Discover mystery and excitement.  Gain a few levels.  “And bring us back what you learn,” say the Guild Masters. Pointy hat on head, staff in hand, shocking grasp cantrip in mind, the orks will take care of these optimistic few.  Dead in caves, on dungeon floors, in wilderness, and on the bitter end of jagged rotten iron hobgoblin swords, the great yearning for adventure solves the Guild Masters’ future wizard problems.  The few survivors are a more manageable long term problem. 

The Masters can deal with five high level wizards.  They have uses for the five high level wizards. The rest is what Bugbears are for.

Because the Guild Masters desire control and the status quo.  They brook no challenged.  The guild has internal laws and the members must obey the laws if they wish to continue reaping perks.  Shops must not sell what the Masters say they cannot sell.  Wizards must not scribe spells on non-guild approved parchment. Wizards must not wear non-guild approved robes.  Wizards must not use competing guild’s magic items.  They cannot learn or cast non-guild approved spells.  No one in the Free Cities may hire a “foreign” wizard – and “foreign” has wide connotations.  The Masters maintain a complete iron monopoly grip on their domain.  

To maintain control, without any forewarning, the Guild Masters sends out bands of Searchers – the Guild’s own Black Internal Affairs Squad – to Wizard workshops, mills, and storefronts to ensure complete compliance with the laws of the guild. Discovering reagents purchased from non-guild storefronts and hats made by non-guild approved milliners is grounds for censure. Spellbooks found with non-guild-approved scrolls or, worse, scab scrolls results in Searchers confiscating the workshop and member banishment from the guild.  The Searchers are on the spot judge, jury and executioner.  There is no appeal.  And the Guild Masters always know.  

Fear in the name of inner harmony, city peace, and civic brotherhood togetherness.  But why worry about the Searchers if the wizard has nothing to hide?  We’re all brothers and sisters.

Some wizards banished from the guild flee the Free Cities guild jurisdictions to craft their own, new spells on their own pressed parchment.  Spells the world has never seen.  Spells that may, if popularized, change everyone’s life.  The Guild Masters cannot abide rogue wizards and spells they do not control.  They are inherently ultra-conservative; change cannot permeate the membrane of their carefully designed guild fabric.  If someone outside mounted a charge to their authority, the Guild Masters could lose a small sliver of power.

The Masters send out teams of witch-hunters into the black swamps or desolate, forgotten wizard towers where the apostates hide. “Find these evil wizards and bring them to justice,” the Guild Masters implore adventurers (which include one of their own), “as they are destroying our way of life.  Keep the magic items in those dungeons and towers you find. For greater glory!  And bring us back the secret spell the evil wizard was working on, will you? Along with his head.” 

The guild promise of progression from apprenticeship to journeyman to master is a lie.  Theoretically, entrance to Mastery in the Wizards Guild is a meritocracy.  Purchase a workshop from years of back-breaking labor and adventuring and accept apprentices.  Take a place at the table of Masters.  Enjoy the money and power.  The old wizard earned it. 

Wizards chase this carrot on a stick their entire lives.  Work hard enough, pay enough dues, play the game, show enough unwavering loyalty, do the dirty work of the guild and be admitted to the higher ranks.  Claw into middle-management.

Yet, the licenses for Mastery in any of the Wizarding Guilds are few and jealously guarded behind a web of examinations, payments, and complex secret mystical rituals.  The Guild Masters goad potential would-be Masters to throw them another grand banquet, kill another guild apostate, and give another vast donation. The Masters promise to place the candidate’s name into the bag for possible election to the Masters when an Old Master dies.  Pinky swear.  And when an Old Master does die, the Guild Masters confers their one available master license to their own progeny to perpetuate hereditary line of families controlling the Guild.  Bloodlines, they argue, are the best proof of future mastery over the difficult, higher-level Magickal Arts and the difficulties of navigating city politics.   Who else to bring into the top ranks of Mastery than those who were born and raised into it?  Fair?  No. What is fair?  Surely there’s another adventure to go on, another dragon to slay, another Plane to map, instead of getting dragged into the mundanity of politics of civil city life?  This is a place for diplomats, not battle-hardened soldiers.

Hiding behind the Guild Masters of the Great Divination Wizard Guild, protected by this hereditary cult of Guild Masters, perpetuated by carefully cultivated nepotism, coils a layer of black secrets.

The Secret Masters of Divination are masters of information.  They know all, see all, understand all.  In times forgotten they built their guild on a core of wizard-based sensors armed with divination spells – information gatherers.  They run the Searchers.  They choose who to hunted and who to ignore.  They declare wizards apostate who climb too high into their ranks.  They sit on masses of data, sift through it and divine who to promote and who to destroy.  Some whisper the Secret Masters of Divination are an Arch Lich, a Mind Flayer and a Beholder who steer the Great Diviniation Wizard Guild toward acts of unspeakable evil. Others claim the Secret Masters are seven 20th level gnome wizards bent on Gnomish World Domination.

In the bowels of the Free Cities, under the streets and deep in wealth-bedecked guildhalls, protected behind layers of mundane journeymen wizards and their legions of servants, the Secret Masters run a massive intelligence operation: a Black Chamber. Within, the Secret Masters filter all the information gleaned for their member’s spells, they read mail, they crack the most powerful codes, and they know all about Lords, the Kings, opposing Wizards, and Great Families.  They run a world-spanning operation and sell their information only to the highest bidders when it suits their purposes.  The entire guild operation – the city government, the greater guilds, the lesser guilds, the mills, the scrolls, the magic item factories, the workers, the apprenticeships – are designed to fund this massive, expensive secret operation.  For whom? No one knows. 

The Secret Masters employ special wizard agents in the Black Chamber to analyze the data and concoct new advanced ways to spy on the enemies of the Free Cities.  They recruit from within the guild: promising journeymen wizards matriculating from the best Master’s workshops are “encouraged”  to go on adventure and, if they live, come to work for the Secret Masters. Here, they perfect their Divination spells and ascend to the highest levels of wizard mastery.  Beyond the control of the Guild Master front, these black agents move among their guild mates and perform the hands-on bidding of the Secret Masters – information collection, murder, mayhem, ant-spy deflection, whatever actions the data dictates.  Outside the Black Chamber, these agents look just like another journeyman wizard.

Anyone might be black agent of the Secret Masters.  Anyone

Or say those who can’t climb into the ranks of the Masters. Who knows? It’s probably all a crazy rumor.  Guild membership and mastery might just be about temporal City-wide power, money, monopolies, trade, wars and control.  Maybe the Guild Masters are a front for run of the mill every day evil.  Funny thing about Masters of Divination – they are also masters of countering divination spells. 

 guild-circlesWriter’s Notes:

I had this idea in my head for the Diviners running a sort of horrible Medieval post-WWI intelligence agency – the forerunner of modern intelligence operations. The Divination spells in D&D5e strongly correlate to information collection, data mining, and sifting. Then I came across the “Cabinet noir.”  And found other references to other Black Chambers, including the American Black Chamber

The free city is Bruges. 

Most of this comes from “Guilds in the Middle Ages” by Georges Renard, 1918.

The Black Chamber is from “The Code Book” by Simon Singh

Anything else is from “Medieval Guilds” on EH.net on the article by Gary Richardson

Picture made in Inkscape.

Review: Miskatonic School for Girls

We picked up Miskatonic School for Girls at PAX East 2012 and we’ve since sat down and played several hands of the two-player variant of the game.  Here’s my specific feedback in Exciting Bullet Point Form.

– The packaging and game pieces are professionally done.  Nothing about this game feels cheap due to being kickstarted.  The play boards are sturdy.  The cards have attractive art on front and back.  The instructions are bright and clear.  Pieces return to the box with relative ease.  

– The game itself takes about five minutes to set up for a 2 player hand.  Decks sort into their respective piles.  What goes where is clear after a quick look at the instructions.

– The art for the monsters is top notch and the monster names are adorably Lovecraftian and clever.  The girl cards were bland in art and name, making it hard to tell what was a real “key buy.”  

– We were up and playing a first hand quickly.  The instructions are easy to understand to anyone who has played a Dominion-like deck-building game in the past.  By the way, folks: if you have not played Dominion and you want to play any of the new card-and-board games on the market, find someone who has Dominion and play several hands.  Every hot new game uses some “twist” on the Dominion deck building mechanics.

– Every turn in the “buy” phase, a player buys a girl for their House (ala Harry Potter) and a new member of the faculty of the school who is, naturally, some horrible abomination from beyond the stars.  These go into the purchase pile and always come out next turn.  Like Ascension, Miskatonic provides stock “buys” of transfer students and substitute abominations should a player not be able to buy a student or a faculty that turn.  

– Miskatonic School for Girls has a nice twist on Dominion-like play: when buying a horrible member of the faculty, one plays it into one’s opponent’s deck and, like any “buy,” must come out next turn.  So you, the player, has incentive to buy the biggest, nastiest monster on the board and send it into your opponent’s deck knowing well they must deal with it immediately while at the same time buying the most amount of “fight” into one’s house to defend against whatever is being sent into your deck.  This sets up a nice bit of tension and competition over cards on the board and strategic buys.

– And as a second twist, whenever a monster ends up in a player’s hand from drawing a hand, at the end of the buying phase, the player has to fight the Cthuloid horror with students in the house.  Should the students fail to hold off the horrid Lunch Lady from Beyond, the House as a whole takes sanity damage.  When sanity hits 0, the player is out of the game.

– Faculty and students get shuffled into the deck after buy-and-fight phases ala any deck building game so faculty can pop out of the deck at any time to gnaw on the student’s heads.  Near the end of the game, a player can draw an entire hand of pure faculty which is, as we discovered, bad.

– The game has a built in “sanity death spiral.”  As the decks grow, more faculty come out.  As more faculty come out, more students lose sanity.  As more students lose sanity… It’s a nice mechanic.

– Cards do have different effects on them — both girls and monsters.  They were a bit forgettable, though.  For an expansion: punchier effects!  

– The game does have generators the same way Ascension has constructs.  They felt a little undercosted and overpowered but still… generators are good.

– The game’s play is considerably more Ascension-like than Dominion-like, although the games are close in play and composition.  If you like Ascension, you will certainly like Miskatonic School for Girls.  If you believe Ascension is an abomination upon the Earth and a blight on all deck building games you should stick with Dominion and its 10,000 expansion packs.

– An entire game takes 30-40 minutes, tops. 

We enjoyed it.  I would gladly play it again.  I would lug the game over to a friend’s house to play several hands.  What struck me during play was how well expansions of monsters and students would fit into the gameplay seamlessly so I have some expectation of expansions in the future.  For Fun to 11’s first stab at a commercial product, it’s a success.

Recommended buy for the deck building card-and-board gamer in your life.

PAX East

We’re heading up to PAX East for the third year in a row.  We’re in the hotel attached to the convention center meaning — yes!  Booze!  The plan is to drive up on Thursday and drive home on Monday so we won’t miss the opening remarks this year.  Also, I will get another scarf because PAX scarfs are important.  And swag.  I need swag.

The only work I’ll be bringing with me is a) my phone which will die trying to pull work mail in a convention center with no coverage and b) my work branded bag as it makes an awesome con bag.  I might also wear my work logo t-shirt maybe.  I will not talk to you about work or my job other than yeah I have this bitchin’ bag maybe I stole it.

If you want to hook up at PAX East give me a shout.  Otherwise, we’ll wander around aimlessly until we run into you in some weird uncomfortable awkward way in a hallway and go all “OH HEY YOU’RE HERE TOO” and “WE’RE GOING OVER THERE” and “YOU ARE GOING WHERE WELL SEE YOU LATER MANG” and then we don’t see you again and we complain all over twitter about not getting together and how that sucked so say something.  Also, a bunch of Folks I Know are On Panels so We’ll Be Attending Some Panels and Yes We Are Stalking You.  And Eric has made noise about attending the concert.

So, there’s the haps.  You can find me either playing board games until my eyes bleed or in the check out and play video game area or watching the Street Fighter tournament.  

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game

While I’m not a big fan of the Leverage TV show, I am a fan of the Leverage RPG and the unfathomable malleability of the Cortex Plus system.  In the hands of a mad post-it note-er, the game is a fast, wild ride through the rampaging dark caverns of a gamer’s id.   Yeah, it’s a damn fine game.

I come to the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game thinking hard about ways to make it do things it shouldn’t.  When I introduce my list of nerddoms, my affinity for comic books lists ahead of video games or RPGs; comics predates any of those pithy things.  I have comics in my bookcase I bought when I was 10 years old (Ambush Bug vs. Superman!) so ragged and torn they hardly look like books and identifiable only by their iconic Hostess advertisements.  

I’m not primarily supers fan.  The last book I read was “Joe the Barbarian” by Grant Morrison a whole two days ago.  Vertigo is my go-to imprint 80% of the time.  But I do confess… when I reach for supers, I reach for Marvel.  X-Men first, mostly, then Avengers, then Spider Man, then everything else.   

In this framework, knowing Cortex Plus is putty in the hands of the overly imaginative, I read Marvel Heroic RPG and found it… more a comics roleplaying game than a pure Supers game.  I’ve played, much to my eternal sadness and stains upon my soul, certain Supers games and they… were Super games trying valiantly to keep the comics unbalance in powers, relations and cosmic silliness.  Marvel Heroic RPG waggles its hands at this problem and says hey, look, you can play all kinds of Marvel and to hell with worrying about if Kitty Pryde is on an equal level as Captain America in the comics.  Everyone on a level playing field!  We’re going to roll some dice and punch things!

I start thinking… could I use it to play Fables? Could one fight off incursions into Fabletown? How about more abstract? Could one do one’s own version of a new current fav of mine, the Unwritten and stat up dice for characters from literature? Or even more abstract — The Walking Dead? Here’s the thing — Cortex Plus is malleable and adaptable.  These rules for comics.  I think so.

What about the game?

The Cortex Plus system, as a stand alone system, is fast and simple.  Roll some dice, pull out the 1s as HORRIBLE DIRE CONSEQUENCES, add up the top two dice and pick a die as the “size” of the result and compare on a contest.  That’s about it.  One can do fun tricks to add dice to one’s pool to juice the result (including tossing in d4s to encourage horrible dire consequences).  The system is stunt driven — the more a player tosses in wackiness, the more dice they roll, the crazier the result.  

As a pure Marvel game, while I haven’t played yet and only read the examples, my gut tells me Marvel Heroic RPG works.  The new Cortex Plus mechanics of the Doom Pool took a few passes to get the gist of how consequences compound, and I worked through the stress tracks a few times, but I cannot find any obvious gotchas or breakdowns.  I’m struck how the game solves the worst problem plaguing Supers games, the “Superman and Batman” problem, by simply saying Hey, They Have Their Strengths, Let’s Play Them Up and Move On.  Game feels simple, lightweight, and fast.  All good things in my book — I get frowny at games heavy with their own importance.  

The meat of my post — a good things/bad things comparison.

Good Things:

– Cortex Plus is fun! 

– Operations Manual’s layout is sane.  It progresses from basics to Doom Pool to consequences, stress, resources, et al and ends with a helpful “how to play” chapter with a lengthy example.  Only after the book explains the game does the book meander off into how to run the game, how to write scenarios, example scenario, and goodies.

– Game is light, fast and cinematic.  Everything for a character is on a single sheet; no need to paw through stacks of source books to figure out how one stat or power works.

– I found the Cyclops and Emma Frost examples running through the book helpful, despite having no love for Cyclops.  The examples are in blue call out blocks directly after the demonstrated rule.  I did end up reading some examples several times. 

– Dude, one of the two example scenarios is Avengers vs. Dinosaurs.  While yeah, I know this comes from a Bendis run, it’s still Avengers vs. Dinosaurs.  With stat blocks for dinosaurs!  I admit: I didn’t read the Avengers punch mobs of Bad Guys scenario. I did read Avengers vs. Dinosaurs.  Dinosaurs are awesome.  

– Book is quite nice upon the eyes, for lo, it is a nice looking book.

– On finishing reading the book, I knew how to play (if not run).  Victory for the good guys!  A technical manual that conveys information to the reader!  A mark of a superior product!  How many RPGs have a I read and had no clue?  Answer: most of them.

Bad Things:

– The Doom Pool is a tad confusing.  Another example crammed into the book would have done me a world of good.  It’s my “oh god a new mechanic WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE” instincts kicking in a bit.

– This book will not please the diehard Supers gamers for so many reasons it will take another 1300 word post to fill.  (I’m not one, so all good.) 

– The mix of Marvel PCs is real off.  I understand the need to sell future supplements and give a broad taste of the Marvel ruleset but we’re left with a handful of Avengers, Cyclops and Wolverine with no Jean Grey, etc.  I chalk up the extensive Emma Frost to someone’s fanboyness of the Grant Morrison New X-Men run.  I felt like I bought a Magic starter set and now had an eclectic mix of half-made useful sets and combos.

– References to Characters Not Appearing In This Book in Rule Blocks and/or Art:  Mystique. Ghost Rider. Dazzler(!!). Professor X.  To name a few.   Game is clearly not a contained game but the core rules ala the nWoD core rules with expectations one will buy the add-on packs.  “If you like this you will LOVE the Civil War Expansion!”  This is unbelievably awkward but unavoidable with the architecture of the core book and planned expansions.  The core book has to have all the core “stuff” but needs to sell expansions.  It cannot be a compendium of the top 100 Marvel characters. So we end up with, say, half of Quicksilver’s stats in a random example.  Quicksilver isn’t that useful in the first place and half of him is pathetic.  This left me with the feeling of editorial sloppiness and some poor choices.

NO DOCTOR STRANGE.  -10 points.  As a huge Mighty God King fan, this is unforgivable.  My tiny fist, it shakes!  Seriously, the lack of a Dr. Strange is sad.  I would have dumped any of the example PCs for Dr. Strange.

– The MWP website for the game is tragic.  Yeah, okay, not a game thing, per se, but honestly: the website is tragic.

LOOK, A CONCLUSION!

May be a little skinny on meat and substance for some die hard Supers gamers to get going right off the bat and will become more interesting with later supplements but for $13 at Drive Thru RPG, I can think of no rational reason not to buy the game.  It’s ridiculously cheap so go buy it.  I like it and I feel it has some deep, untapped potential.  It’s a more accessible gateway into Cortex Plus than Leverage or Smallville.  

So yeah.  Excepting a few small quibble, it’s a great game. Good job, guys.

Nephilim – Secret Society: The Knights Templar

The Knights Templar are the guys with the Plan.  

They are the guys, to put a fine point on it, with the Grand Plan.  The Grand Plan has a large number of wiggly bits to it but in essence it looks like:

– Steal all the occult knowledge in the world;

– Kill all the Nephilim;

– ?????

– Profit!

In the Official Templar Publications and Documentation the Grand Plan is more formal on gold leaf with gold ink. When boiled down to its essence that’s what they’re about.  Come with us!  We kill Nephilim and we have a Grand Plan for the Magical Domination of the Earth!  Also, pie!  We have PIE.

In 1014BC, about the time when the great King of Kings were memories and the Pyramids slowly overtaken by the sands and Egypt herself was torn to shreds by another round of internal civil war and strife, twelve military commanders laid hands on the secrets of the Priests at Heliopolis and learned the truth of the Nephilim, Akhenaton and the 22 Major Arcana.  They conceived a plan to steal the Emerald Tablets which held the greatest of Nephilim secrets and learn them for themselves.  They were thwarted at the last moment and they, and their followers, disappeared into the sands to lurk and wait.  They become excellent lurkers. A thousand years later, the Templars felt they had an opening to unleash their Grand Plan with the Birth of the Fool but they were thwarted again by Nephilim in the guise of Romans in Judea.  Then again in the 12th Century they emerged, the Poor Knights of the Temple, to guard pilgrims to the Holy City and to search for the artifacts buried by the followers of the Fool at the Temple Mount. It stuck. 

Armed with the knowledge found in scrolls found under the remains of Solomon’s Temple, the Templars enacted their current version of their Grand Plan.  By the 13th century they spread through all of Europe as bankers and financiers for the Great and Mighty.  They owned the land.  They owned the world! And it would have worked too if it wasn’t for those meddling Nephilim who used their positions in the Church and the French Court to make the Templar Treasure Horde a tasty snack to desperate despots.  As being burned at the stake as a witch was the trend in the 13th century, the Templars partook.  They burned well.  Their forces dispersed with their occult knowledge and their money as far away from the French Court as they could go which, at the time, was Scotland.

The Templars reconvened underground and nursed their wounds and their hatred of the Nephilim.  This was well known territory: they had skulked underground for thousands of years, stalking Nephilim, and turning them into Elixers while slowly worming their way into power.  They could do it again.  So they did.  The Templars prepared to ride out another ten centuries until they could rise again. 

Never having given up banking, the modern Templars are the great brokers of occult services in the underground world.  Need someone capped?  They have assassins.  Need a spell cast using an Elixir?  They can get sorcerers and bottles of Ka-elements.  Have a Nephilim infestation and need an Orichulka sword?  They are the go-to guys to find that weapon.  The Templars long learned debts were worth more than hard cash (although cash is nothing to sniff at), and everyone owes the Templars with an extra 10% interest off the top.  They call in their debts when they need something done.  And one better do it, because someone else owes the Templars, too, and they’ll call in that favor to wipe you out for lack of payment, the bastards.  They sit like a giant, plump spider among all the other secret societies helping some and hindering others to work the levers of the Grand Plan.

The Head of the Templars is the Grand Master.  He rules the society with an iron fist.  Second to him are Eleven Bailiffs who rule eleven parts of the world.  Beneath the Bailiffs are the Commanderies, smaller units of geographical area ruled from secret Templar lairs.  Each Commandry is ruled by a White Coat and his Six Knight Companions.  Below the White Coat and his Six Companions are Knights, Squires and Pages.  A page is the lowest unit of Templar.

And one cannot have a paranoid secret society with Internal Affairs.  The IA wing of the Templars are called the Obediences.  The Obedience Heads are the Crosses.  What’s super fun is when the Obediences get into fights with their Commanderies and an entire Templar power node implodes.

The Templars keep two kinds of outside influences going: their Companions and their Farm.  Their Companions are groups and organizations who know of the Templar existence and work with them for monetary bribes or mild power gains.  They are not terribly well informed but they do give material help.  The Farm is a network if in the dark dupes who do the Templar’s dirty work without ever knowing the truth.  The Templars exercise the Farm liberally to keep from expending their own resources.

The modern Templar goals are simple: 1. Kill All Nephilim.  2. Enact Grand Plan.   Whenever Nephilim put their heads up and look around, Templars are there ready to lop their heads off with Orichulka swords.  All the plans, the plots, the conspiracies, they all ultimately come back… to the Templars.

CMS Updates and Adds

I added ~15 pages to the Nephilim FATE Conversion CMS on the site.  Most of these are cut and paste jobs although some are cut-and-paste-2-or-more-together jobs.  I’m pondering one of those fancy edit-right-in-the-page buttons for when I come through and clean things up.  All the links in the main index page and in the table of contents included on every page should be good.

What the system desperately needs is examples so duly noted I will need to add examples.  I also need to move major arcana and game seeds out of the blog stream and into the right place.  

WordPress isn’t really a great tool for this but it’s what I have.  Ultimately something like Drupal is better for a blog+CMS build out but I didn’t want to migrate all my crap into Drupal due to complete laziness.  I may be forced to over time.  

So!  If you ever want to publish a ton of gaming materials on your site for people to pick through and download AND you want to have a front page blog AND you’re cheap and wish to spend no money AND you are starting from scratch, Drupal is your best choice.

Bookhounds of Nephilim

This an example of a full Nephilim campaign.

Out on the edge of town a small band of strange people run an eclectic bookstore.  They show up to all the estate sales and pick over the booksellers searching for choice and rare books, the more occult-like the better.  One or two of them are auction hounds known for sniping sales.  And they are a bit creepy.

They’re Nephilim.  And they’re Bookhounds.  They have been Bookhounds for thousands of years.  Now they’re awake and they crave knowledge.

1930s London is soaked in the Occult

It is the time of the Emperor Arcanum.  Great powers grind together across Europe to slow inexorable destruction.  A country falls to the forces of the occult.  The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is on the wane and their secrets published for the world to see.  Aleister Crowley still lives — bloated, fat and drunk, but alive.  Would-be occultists lounge in coffee shops and exclusive clubs to swap politics and gossip.  Dark things stalk the alleyways of London and most of them inhabit human forms.

No one likes Occult books like Nephilim

Floating around among the detritus of the swiftly changing world of the 1930s is the hastily copied and poorly printed accumulated knowledge of the Occult Nephilim since the Dawn of Time, badly copied and handwritten and misprinted.  One man’s Kabbalah scratchings in the frontspiece of a book is another man’s Greater Summoning.  Occult tomes are like Pokemon to Nephilim — no matter how worthless one must catch them all.  The Nephilim collect books with purpose.  Those half-hearted confused rituals work for them, after all.   

And Sometimes the Books Come With Bonuses

That book full of Theosophy and Dream-Magick has, buried in it, the ritual summoning of a horror from beyond time and space, ripped from some plane unexplored by Nephilim-kind.  It’s a little unexpected but hey!  It’s a new Summoning!  We want to keep that one in case the Templars show up…

Everyone wants — and are dying for — occult books

In the meantime, something new and horrible grows.  The rise of the Thule Society in Germany in the 1930s is deep and fertile ground for Nephilim Adventures stationed in London.  The world’s first truly magickal human government is bent on world domination, and eliminating all Nephilim.  Not those who stand in their way — all Nephilim.

– The High Priestess Arcana will do anything to collect the now-scattered secret Occult knowledge before the now highly trained occult societies of humans do and they will kill to defend their libraries;

– The Emperor wishes to preserver his power from the rise of the Thule in Europe and expects those who dwell in his Domain to do his bidding and collect the Occult knowledge and shoot Nazis for him;

– The Tower scours the Auction halls and bookseller tables to pull forbidden knowledge from the hands of humans, knowledge leaked out by the rise of Occult Societies in Victorian London;

– The Magician wants to put magic into the hands of mankind to help them combat the rising tide of Occult Evil and sponsors more than a few post-Golden Dawn Occult Circles and is getting into all kinds of trouble;

– The Templars, via Secret Governmental Organizations, consider working — maybe, in an enemy of my enemy is my frenemy — with the Nephilim Arcanum JUST THIS ONCE to combat the rising horror of the Thule but they still will pull Occult books out of the grasping hands of Nephilim Bookhounds at estate sales;

– Meanwhile, the Thule Society may already have their hands on the Spear of Destiny and, worse, are establishing Occult bases from Berlin to Alexandria to Tibet and they are hunting Nephilim;

– The race is on for the Thule, the Nephilim, the Templars, and any opportunistic secret societies — ancient Nephilim-worshipping groups and Black Moon Selenim and horrible cults — to collect all the Occult tomes floating around on the streets of London and use the magic contained within to win the upcoming World War.  That 15th century grimoire is more than a book full of dark evils; it may be the key to winning the World.

Bookhounds of Nephilim is a heady stew of Occultists who can actually practice the occult, London, Nephilim Major Arcana jocking for position in the morning hours of WWII, Templars making backroom deals, Nazis, trips through the snows of Tibet, chases through the desert for ancient artifacts of power, guns, car chases, book auctions, and more Nazis.  And maybe the Ark of the Covenant.  Or Cthulhu.  It all starts with a couple of Nephilim, friends throughout their Incarnations through time, putting up shop in a bookstore.  Who would ever suspect eccentric book collectors in a book store in London?

Start with the Nazis and Occultism resource and work from there.  It’s a fertile ground for great stuff.  Also some high quality crazy.  Simply read through the Internet and assume every rumor about the Nazis and the Occult are true.  Now, stir.

You can get Bookhounds of London from Pelgrane Press. But I assume you already own a copy. Setting is “Extreme pulp.”  It’s not the right system but it’s full of the right flavor.

The 1930s Nephilim Bookhounds vs the Thule vs the Templars game is high on my list of games to run.  

The Nephilim Job

There you are, all popped out of your stasis, in your spiffy new body, in some city newer than your last incarnation, living out some insane science fiction dream.  One minute you were being skewered by Templars in the late 15th century and next thing you know, you’re standing on the streets of New York (or Atlanta or LA or San Francisco or Seattle…) Things are weird but it’s better than being held in suspended animation in your Babylonian sword.  Speaking of your stasis…

… where is it, exactly?

You didn’t think you were waking up in a new Simulacrum with it in your hand, did you?

Right off the bat, you have yourself a problem.  Or, more to the point, a set of problems.

1. Your Stasis is not sitting around in a convenient, low security location.

Babylonian swords don’t hang around waiting for Babylonians to come along and sword with them.  That sword is a precious cultural relic that goes for millions at auction.  It’s either sitting in a museum, in a private collection, or in an archeological dig.  And if you didn’t just wake in a Simulacrum in Iraq — which would have it’s own fascinating set of problems — it’s in a museum or a collection.  And you’ve got to find out which one it is, in the middle of an unfamiliar city, in an unfamiliar century, full of unfamiliar stuff.

You’re going to need some serious help.

2. You’ve got to get the crew together.

You cannot possibly be the only Nephilim in this God forsaken century and in this stinking, loud, insane city.  There must be other Nephilim wandering through the dark, strange, and Starbucky places, those places where the occult and the hobo codes meet.  And interesting enough, other Nephilim do wander the same occulty gatherings hoping to bump into other Nephilim.  Wouldn’t it be fortuitous if you happened to meet Nephilim you knew?   

Along the way, picking up some of the gossip about the various Arcana is helpful.  Who is fighting with whom?  And who has the Tower stabbed lately?  How have things changed since you last walked the Earth?  

But now you have a few… not so much friends as Nephilim with some plans in common (for now) so now it’s time to locate your Stasis.

3. Wouldn’t you know it, it’s being held by the damned Templars.

With the help of a crazed Chariot Angel with his head wired and plugged into the Internet while he does some strange ‘net-based Alchemy you hardly comprehend, you locate your stasis.  You didn’t think it was far away: it’s in a swank expensive location owned, as you find out after some serious research and casing of the joint, a prominent Templar.  A Templar who believes a Good Nephilim is a Dead Nephilim.  The kind of Templar who has guards and security systems and friends.

Good thing you and your friends uncover an upcoming gala/an antiques auction/a huge benefit at a local museum where lots of people will be around the stasis. You and your friends can maybe sneak in with a few well-applied spells and summonings and waltz out with the Babylonian Sword in hand and a few other occult and highly mystical trinkets.

4. Getting it has some operational issues.

Not only is the Stasis well guarded, a Babylonian Sword doesn’t slip into a convenient pocket.  Getting it out of the gala/benefit/giant well guarded fortress without riling up the Templar who owns it — and knows what it is — isn’t going to be easy.  It will take planning, and prepping spells, and intelligence.  And even then, something always goes wrong.  Because that’s what happens.  It goes wrong.  

Even if the crew gets out of the Heist with the Stasis in hand and only a minimum of complete mayhem and a smallish body count, it will leave a pissed off Templar in their wake.  A Templar who knows Nephilim are running around.  And he wants them dead… before they interfere with his plans.  Maybe for World Domination!  But maybe also just for pie.

Nephilim can be run as a full on Occult Heist game.  Stasis, Athanors, Focii, Secret Mystical Tomes, Freeing Homunculi, foiling ancient enemies… Nephilim, as an underground occult street species breaking reality for fun and profit, are natural thieves, hackers and grifters.  The world is full of stuff to steal, enemies to rob, and marks to screw.  Nephilim don’t turn to the temporal human authorities to follow through on their plans.  Instead they break into houses, run savage burns on marks, and sneak off into the night with the new magic book full of the secrets of the Higher Planes of Summoning in hand.  

A fantastic source for inspiration in running Heist games is the Leverage RPG.  Sure, this is a direct plug of a pretty good game.  Also, the chapter on running the game has a great flow for building Heists in general.  Nephilim are made for Heist games.  And for Nephilim, the Mark?  He’s probably some god damned Templar.

(I could add much more on this subject but this post is already getting long.)

Nephilim FATE – Now What?

After the lengthy buildup of system, the end chapters of the original Nephilim sourcebook doesn’t provide hints on what to do with the system.  It offers a hodge-podge of secret societies, a bunch of colorless Nephilim NPCs and an unconnected bestiary.  It’s a headscratcher.  A cool magic system and a neat incarnation system dripping with history and the book shows no way forward.  No wonder the game collapsed and the line was canceled; no one could play it because no one knew what to do with it.  The sourcebook glossed over little things like setting and examples.

I’m not a huge fan of the canned adventures at the end of sourcebooks but, somewhere along the way, and I’m not certain when or where, we figured out a game needs all the game bits to be a complete product.  It needs skill/combat resolution systems and character sheets and an example of what to do and where to go.  I don’t run canned adventures (although that may change soon) but I read them.  I like to know what the designers were thinking when they put the system together and use them as an example of how to apply the system. 

Now that I’m at the end of converting the core rules in the core Nephilim sourcebook + a big chunk of Chronicles of the Awakening + scraping some stuff out of Major Arcana, it’s time to do something cool.  So the next big chunk of posts will be everything I can think up, no matter how wacky or bizarre, of things to do with a pack of immortal, occult-obsessed, mystical beings who ride around in fleshy meatbags and chase some philosophical ideal they may never reach because they believe somewhere, out there, if they just are pretty enough, they will get delicious cake.  And such delicious cake it is!

Also, Templars.  

The ideas trotted out are just that — ideas.  And they may be exceptionally lame.  But I’ll try to show off what one can do with Nephilim if one thinks about it super duper hard.  If any of these are GOOD or USEFUL or should be EXPANDED, leave a comment and I’ll work them up past the original 500 words.

Meanwhile, I am slowly shoving webpages into my CMS.  It’s taking me forever, though, but I’m hoping that activity picks up soon.