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Orpheus: How Did You Handle Bedlam, Flesh-Flux & Helter-Skelter?

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  • Orpheus: How Did You Handle Bedlam, Flesh-Flux & Helter-Skelter?

    I'm currently running an Orpheus campaign with a great group of players: We're nearing the end of the first book, which (without spoiling anything) means very exciting times are ahead!

    However, I'm having a bit of difficulty with a few of my crucible's Horrors, and I'd love some advice! (First, I should be clear that I allowed both the Phantasm and the Marrow to be selected at the beginning of the game, since I'm of the opinion that the game offers little believable reasons for withholding those shades for as long as they did. But I'm beginning to suspect that the Bedlam and, especially, Flesh-Flux Horrors might be balanced for later on in the campaign---and would love insights into how I could tone them down, or if you think I need to.)

    Bedlam: I have a single Phantasm being run by a very creative player. Of all the Horrors in Orpheus, the illusion-shaping Bedlam is the one that benefits the most from creativity, and this woman is an artist. I absolutely do not want to discourage creativity---quite the opposite!---but I also don't want clever applications of Bedlam to overshadow the contributions of my other players. To that end, I've created a set of "clarifications" on Bedlam's use, in an attempt to circumscribe exactly what she can and cannot do with it. (Some of these simply emphasize the RAW, I realize, but they're important nevertheless):
    • Discrete Effect: An illusion must be defined as adding or subtracting a single, discrete aspect of reality. You can make a group of people invisible, but only as long as that group remains together (i.e. remains a "single, discrete" thing). But if that group splits up, the illusion will fail---because the single, discrete "group" has now become multiple "people".
    • One Illusion per Target: A person can only be affected by a single illusion at a time, regardless of whether the illusion is general or if it targets them specifically. So, if you target one person with the illusion that they're covered in spiders, that person won't be affected by a subsequent general illusion of a wall that's meant to be visible to everyone.
    • Vitality Minimums: External senses (sight, sound, touch, smell and taste) do not have a minimum vitality cap. Internal senses (pain, balance, hunger, fatigue, nausea, imminent explosive diarrhea, etc) require at least 3 Vitality. Mystical senses (sensing Vitality, sensing Nature Groups) require at least 5 Vitality. Note: Pain and Touch are distinct senses, and must both be engaged to make an illusion of, say, setting someone on fire "perfectly believable" (see below).
    • Believability: A target does not necessarily need to suspect they are witnessing an illusion to get a roll to disbelieve it. Instead, several factors will determine if a target gets to roll, as well as the difficulty of such a roll:
      • any applicable senses that you have left out of the illusion (e.g. for a flashbang: leaving out "sound" is definitely going to earn a disbelief roll; leaving out "smell" is a little less risky; leaving out "pain" will almost always be safe)
      • how distracted the target is, which can include the effects of the illusion itself (e.g. if you set a man on fire and invoke "pain", his shock and agony will make it harder for him to notice the absence of "touch", "sound" or "smell")
      • sensations divorced from causes (e.g. inflicting raw "pain" on someone is risky---they may believe they're suffering a heart attack, sure, but if they know they're in good health, that may give them cause to doubt; the same goes for simply blinding or deafening a target out of nowhere)
    What do you think? Anything I should add, subtract, or clarify further?

    Flesh-Flux: Firstly, I'm confused as to how this Horror works. Every other Horror operates on a 0 to 5-Vitality scale. Is it implied that Flesh-Flux behaves the same way? Are players limited to spending 5 Vitality, maximum, on the Horror? If so, do they have to divide those five Vitality up amongst the "grab-bag" of listed effects, or are the costs treated as thresholds such that a 5-Vit expenditure allows activating any/all of them? I tend to think Flesh-Flux is an exception to the 5-Vitality scale, and require each listed power to be purchased independently---but I allow a maximum of 5 Vitality to be spent per turn. So, if you want to manifest a dozen Stains at once, it's going to take a ton of Vitality and several turns to pull off.

    I am worried about the absurd flexibility of this Horror, particularly in comparison to hues, whose advantage seems to be completely overtaken by Flesh-Flux. The power to manifest any Stain (not just your own), and subsume their drawbacks, has resulted in some absolutely ridiculous Frankenstein's Monster-style transformations. For example, my Marrow handed me this list last session, and proceeded to tear the opposition to pieces:

    Expenditure 1 - Withered Stain, so I will not send out Vitality pings when I spend more.
    Expenditure 2 - +2 Dexterity by loosening my ligaments to improve flexibility, improving balance, grip and speed.
    Expenditure 3 - +2 Strength by adding muscle mass and density.
    Expenditure 4 - Gaunt Stain, no drawback.
    Expenditure 5 - Brute Stain, no drawback.
    Expenditure 6 - Corrosive Pustules Stain, no drawback.
    Expenditure 7 - Bristling Hide Stain, no drawback.
    Expenditure 8 - Nauseating Stain, no drawback.
    Expenditure 9 - Claws, no drawback.

    2, 4, 4, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3 = 28 Vitality, which I'll spend over six turns.
    I had no issue with this---it was awesome, and it did cost him almost thirty Vitality---but I'm wondering if this might be too much flexibility on my part?

    Helter-Skelter: I'm having something of the opposite issue with this Horror---I'm having a hell of a time coming up with opportunities for my Poltergeist to shine, because Helter-Skelter is just so damn limited in its application. Short of turning a room into a meat grinder (something Wail and Witch's Nimbus can do already), how can I create niches where Helter-Skelter is the right tool for the job?

    Thanks a ton in advance for any insight/advice you can give!
    Last edited by Eunomiac; 09-08-2017, 12:41 AM.


    Amateur dinosaur hunter and extreme weather enthusiast, whose interests include spoken mime, armchair parkour, conspicuous ninjutsu and Schröedinger's pentameter—of which this sentence may or may not be an example.

  • #2
    It's been a while since I dug into the mechanics of Orpheus like this so I'm going to have to dig into my books. On first glance, though I think you are handling Bedlam well and I've long been of the opinion that Marrows were poorly integrated into the game and were there more for a nod to Wraith than anything. There's no good reason for them to be a late game addition, but they are clearly balanced that way. Don't massive Vitality expenditures attract Spectres, though?

    I keep assuming Helter Skelter would be the horror responsible for Final Destination like deathtraps, but I'd have to look at the core book again to make sure.


    Mage: The Ice-ension: An Epic Game of Reality on the Rink

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Ramnesis View Post
      I've long been of the opinion that Marrows were poorly integrated into the game and were there more for a nod to Wraith than anything. There's no good reason for them to be a late game addition, but they are clearly balanced that way.
      Agreed re: poor integration of Marrows into the game. Two of my five players are running Marrows, and this was really the first time the "full power" of Flesh-Flux was demonstrated.

      Originally posted by Ramnesis View Post
      Don't massive Vitality expenditures attract Spectres, though?
      Normally, but my clever player spent his first Vitality on manifesting the Withered Stain:
      WITHERED
      This Stain withers a character’s plasm so that regardless his Vitality, he always appears desiccated and several months past dead.
      Advantage: The character registers as a zero-Vitality entity, meaning that he can expend as much Vitality as he possesses within a single turn and not register to Spectres or other spooks (at least those not within line-of-sight).
      (Orpheus, pp. 199)
      Originally posted by Ramnesis View Post
      I keep assuming Helter Skelter would be the horror responsible for Final Destination like deathtraps.
      You're not wrong. My issue is in coming up with credible plots wherein this kind of power is both useful and not overshadowed by the destructive effects of other Horrors. Orpheus Group is, after all, a public company indulging in (mostly) above-board investigation-style missions: it's rare that there's cause to attack a roomful of comparatively defenceless mortals with a whirlwind of metal implements. Most of the violence comes at the hands of Spectres, which aren't vulnerable to Helter-Skelter, and the mortal threats Orpheus agents do encounter are usually more effectively, more reliably, and more subtly dealt with via other Horrors anyways (e.g. Unearthly Repose, Bedlam, Wail, Witch's Nimbus).

      Helter-Skelter just strikes me as a Horror with very limited opportunities for use. I'm really hoping for ideas on how to create moments for my Poltergeist player and his signature ability to shine!
      Last edited by Eunomiac; 09-29-2017, 11:10 AM.


      Amateur dinosaur hunter and extreme weather enthusiast, whose interests include spoken mime, armchair parkour, conspicuous ninjutsu and Schröedinger's pentameter—of which this sentence may or may not be an example.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Eunomiac View Post
        Normally, but my clever player spent his first Vitality on manifesting the Withered Stain:
        This is one of those moments that I would be a little evil and say that, yes the player is not a beacon and doesn't draw the Spectres directly to himself. But the expenditure still draws them to the general area (within a city block or two). Nothing that complicates the action in any immediate way, but something that will become a problem eventually if the players aren't careful.


        You're not wrong. My issue is in coming up with credible plots wherein this kind of power is both useful and not overshadowed by the destructive effects of other Horrors. Orpheus Group is, after all, a public company indulging in (mostly) above-board investigation-style missions: it's rare that there's cause to attack a roomful of comparatively defenceless mortals with a whirlwind of metal implements. Most of the violence comes at the hands of Spectres, which aren't vulnerable to Helter-Skelter, and the mortal threats Orpheus agents do encounter are usually more effectively, more reliably, and more subtly dealt with via other Horrors anyways (e.g. Unearthly Repose, Bedlam, Wail, Witch's Nimbus).


        Helter-Skelter just strikes me as a Horror with very limited opportunities for use. I'm really hoping for ideas on how to create moments for my Poltergeist player and his signature ability to shine!
        I suppose it is a little hard to generate circumstances where telekinesis is helpful that can't also be solved by simply manifesting. There's lot's of ways your players could make use of it if they're so inclined, of course. Swiping keys, creating a distraction, etc. I don't think you can engineer the situation for them, though.

        Have you ever had the Orpheus Group send them on some less than legal missions? One's where there can't be any evidence of Orpheus involvement?



        Mage: The Ice-ension: An Epic Game of Reality on the Rink

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