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Sleeper Curiosity, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Labyrinth

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  • Sleeper Curiosity, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Labyrinth

    So, I was reading the Hurt Locker previews again and was struck by a small epiphany that there might be some new interesting piece to add to Mage's mechanics.

    This isn't a big piece or necessarily even an important one but it's one I found interesting because, as an ST, it's been something I've had difficulty with in the past and I think it's a fun little way to access some parts of Mage's setting that, to my mind, don't receive quite as much love as they might otherwise.

    So, on we go.

    ---

    What: House rules to mechanize Sleeper curiosity.

    Why: To emphasize the paranoia of Mage's themes; to make Guardian Labyrinths more clearly useful and less a background element; to emphasize certain parts of the Lex Magicka that are often forgotten or ignored.

    Why this might be useful to you: If you like mechanical aids to help guide narrative effects; if you want to add more paranoia towards Sleepers into your games; if you want Guardian Labyrinths to seem less morally black.

    Why this might not be useful to you: You already handle the narrative effects pretty well; you already focus on Labyrinths narratively; you don't want your players to focus on paranoia.

    ---

    It is human nature to be curious. Whether by evolution or divine design, humanity possesses within its soul a spark that seeks to light the dark places. The undiscovered country softly calls. It does not matter if our lights are so frequently snuffed in dark places; the urge to know is strong. We are called, eternally, into the shadows.

    Even in a world full of darkness, there will always be those who seek out the shadows for no greater reason than to know.

    The Awakened know this urge well; in them, a small candle has become a lantern. In time, it may be a raging inferno; fighting back the shadows and racing to the horizon.

    Like, however, calls to like; those in whom that divine flame dances will be drawn to greater lights; seeking to see what is already known. They are pulled by some urge they can scarcely name to seek. In that, there is danger. The Lex Magicka warns all Awakened to not leave evidence of their magic for the unenlightened to discover for a reason. It draws Sleepers like moths to a flame, and not all of them are happy with what they find.

    MECHANICS

    Shamelessly inspired/borrowed from the Hurt Locker preview's Stakes and Torches optional rule

    Sleepers are drawn to any hint of magic. This system exists to help represent these moths drawn to a flame.

    All Mages in a given region possess a Curiosity pool, representing the amount of "signal" they give off to those with eyes on the occult community. This pool begins initially equal to their highest occult social merit (Mystery Cult Initiation/Influence, dots of Allies, Contacts, Status, etc., representing a secret society, and so on). Dots of Fame also add to this pool, while Occultation acts as a penalty (as mystical coincidences and a low profile hide them from view).

    Any time a Mage leaves some evidence of their occult activities or their connection to magic, every Mage in the region adds one die to their Curiosity pool. The Mage (or Mages, if several were involved) who caused the increase immediately must roll their pool.

    Dramatic Failure: The Mage is well-concealed. Rather than aiding the pursuit against them, the clues they left are misinterpreted and only serve to throw the Seeker off. Remove two dice from the pool (for a total of -1 of the amount prior to this evidence).

    Failure: The Mage evades notice for the moment.

    Success: The investigators have found them! The Mage acquires the Spotted Condition.

    Exceptional Success: Oh dear. Not only have they been spotted, but they've been outed. The Mage acquires the Identified Condition, as well as the Spotted Condition.



    Once per chapter, a Mage may reduce their Curiosity pool through the use of an appropriate Social merit (meaning that, yes, you can use the same merits creating the "baseline" for your pool to reduce your pool). This reduces the Curiosity pool by one die.

    ---

    SPOTTED (Persistent)

    The Mage has been spotted! Someone knows (or suspects very strongly) that they're in some way linked to the supernatural. Determined to understand the truth, the person will seek - in whatever fashion they feel appropriate - to extract that information from the Mage.

    Once per session, the ST may have the Mage's follower use whatever means are at their disposal to horribly inconvenience the character; perhaps simply turning up at the wrong time and place to act as a witness to their magic, or breaking into their sanctum, or harassing them.

    Beat: Any time the character is put at risk or inconvenienced by the Mage, they may gain a Beat.

    Resolution: The follower is permanently dealt with, in whatever fashion.

    ---

    IDENTIFIED (Persistent)

    The absolute worst has happened: The Mage has been publicly outed. Someone, somewhere, has not only recognized them for what they are (or at least produced convincing enough evidence of their deluded conspiracy theory) but has shared that evidence with others. The Mage's face is plastered on conspiracy theory websites; the address of their home or even their sanctum is listed in pamphlets; people look at them strangely on the street.

    Any Occultation merit is suppressed while the character has this Condition. They are always being watched. So long as this Condition is in effect, the Spotted Condition cannot be permanently resolved; new seekers take the place of the old ones and, indeed, get more aggressive with time. In addition, the local Awakened population are liable to experience troubles as well; so long as the character has this Condition, all other Awakened in the region receive a +2 to their Curiosity pool; +3 if they belong to the character's Order.

    Suffice to say, most Mages do not appreciate it when one of their number is Identified. The character's First Impression with fellow Awakened is one lower than usual.

    Beat: Any time the Mage is denied access to something or otherwise hindered by their being Identified, they may gain a Beat.

    Resolution: The character successfully dispels the conspiracy theory surrounding them; the character moves away and starts a new life with a secret identity; the character otherwise ends the spreading of their personal information.

    ---

    EVIDENCE - What counts as it?

    This is an important and obvious question: What counts as evidence of magic or a Mage's connection to it? There are three answers to that, all depending on how paranoid the ST wants to make their players and their characters. These rules are designed to enhance paranoia but there is such a thing as too much paranoia, where fear can interfere with tone and enjoyment.

    To that end, several example options are listed here; to show what might be good guidelines for the sort of events that could add a Curiosity die to the player's pool. These lists are cumulative; that is, whatever is listed in light is also a cause in medium or heavy.

    Light: Casting Obvious magic in a public space; leaving behind obvious occult symbols (pentagrams or runes spray-painted on the walls, etc.) in an area the Mage visits regularly; spells or other magic that leave behind very obvious and unusual results (blast craters, unusual claw marks, etc.); causing an Anomaly Paradox.

    Medium: Being seen wearing ritual vestments; being the beneficiary of an extreme string of unusual coincidences; openly practicing an esoteric faith; having a familiar in public that is not a "typical" animal (only applies once).

    Heavy: Attending a magical meeting (e.g. Caucus or Consilium; only applies once a chapter; does not stack); wearing jewellery with occult insignia; occupying any sort of public office; possessing the Fame merit in Sleeper circles

    Super-Heavy Option: Use Heavy settings, but make each tier a "cumulative" sin. That is, add three dice for Light, two for Medium, one for Heavy. Be warned, this will make your players ultra-paranoid. Really not recommended.

    Generally, it's recommended to stick to Light paranoia, since Mages tend to produce plenty of it. Naturally, careful Mages, with sufficient time, can go back and erase any evidence of their activities or make assurances that what they do will be necessarily private. Unluckily for them, the Awakened are frequently incautious and lack for sufficient time; nobody really has time to clean up the ritual circle when a murder spirit conjured through it breaks free and chases the unlucky Awakened across town.

    ---

    NEW MERITS

    Labyrinth -
    ● to ●●●
    Pre-requisites: Guardians of the Veil Status ●, Mystery Cult Influence ●●●+

    Your character has influence or even control of a Guardian Labyrinth. All Awakened in the Guardian's cabal subtract the highest Labyrinth rating of any Guardian in the cabal from their Curiosity pool.

    Naturally, even if they are loathe to admit it, being so useful to Awakened society has its uses. Once per chapter, any Guardian who possesses this merit may treat it as Allies dots in any reasonable area of influence, representing calling in favours from other Awakened who possess that influence already.


    Cleaner - ●●
    Pre-requisites: Sleepwalker or Awakened

    Your character is very good at covering up messes; their own and those of others. Perhaps they were a former conspiracy theorist themselves and know how to throw out false leads, or maybe they're just good at knowing how to hide their tracks. Whatever the case, the character may reduce their Curiosity dice by two per chapter, instead of one.

    Alternatively, Cleaners may be altruistic and choose to lower the Curiosity pool of another by one, instead.

    Masochistic Psyche - ●●●
    Pre-requisites: Sleeper

    Some people like it when you hurt them. Sleepers with this merit are lured to horror and pain. Inevitably, they are slightly broken individuals, often with a sadistic or masochistic streak, but it makes them slightly inured to the Quiescence Curse.


    While otherwise normal Sleepers, those with this merit are not driven away by the horror produced by the Quiescence Curse. They misremember, rather than forgetting; seeing Mages as demonic demigods or devil worshipers. Even if they see the Awakened as evil and in need of destruction, something urges them to move forward, rather than away. Naturally, this makes them terrifying Hunters.

    A character with this merit gains Witnessing Obvious Magic as an additional Vice.


    ---

    EXAMPLE NPCS

    This section is all about the sorts of NPCs that might hound player-characters if they gain the Spotted Condition.

    The Crank Journalist - They've got a The Truth Is Out There t-shirt on and never leave the home without a half-dozen ways of recording media. Unexplained lights, ghost sightings, elected officials turning into reptiles between frames of video, mysterious gatherings of the oligarchic elite in the woods; these things make the Crank Journalist feel alive. Most of the time, they're jumping at shadows, but sometimes - just sometimes - their dogged determination sees things everyone else refuses to notice.

    The Crank Journalist will follow the Mage everywhere and make their life a living hell; taking pictures of them going to their sanctum and posting them online where any of their enemies might find it; showing up right in the middle of a battle with a demon; harassing the Mage's family to demand "the truth". Worst of all, if you confront them violently or legally, they often just see it as proof they're close to the truth!

    The Wannabe Occultist - There is Truth in this world and they believe they can find it. In fact, they believe someone can show it to them! The Wannabe Occultist may range from a teenager who overheard the Mage talking about the Mysteries by sheer accident, to the serious and dedicated theologian who feels a yearning within their heart of hearts to find enlightenment. Perhaps they might even have the potential for Awakening blazing within them and sit right on the cusp of it, but have become distracted with a false and easy path.

    Wannabe Occultists have a tendency to be dramatic, though, and usually end up appearing and inconveniencing the Mage in the worst ways. When that teenager keeps sneaking out at night to show up at the Mage's doorstep, the cops aren't likely to buy the story of "They think I'm a wizard, officer". When that serious theologian, frustrated at years of stagnant progress towards enlightenment, breaks into the Mage's sanctum and steals their grimoires, it can test even the most patient thearch.

    The Puritan - Mages have a tendency to be an unusual bunch. Awakening has a way of expanding horizons, and many seek enlightenment in ways that society may find strange or even morally repugnant. While this may be justified in instances of, say, human sacrifice, most Awakened would feel only sympathy for their kin who explore their own esoteric traditions in a benign or even beneficial way.

    The Puritan is someone who pushes past mere tutting into outright prejudice and bigotry. This goes beyond the mere hatred for a particular group; it is focused on the Mage in particular. Maybe the Puritan sees them as a corrupting influence; maybe they see them as a white whale to be hunted. While most Puritans never go so far as to try and physically assault the Mage, they may go to all manner of lengths to harm them. Swatting (that is, calling in a hostage situation and such) a Mage right in the middle of a ritual is something any person with a phone line can do. It only gets worse when the Puritan has a position of power over the Mage. If the Mage even moves into Identified territory, an entire harassment campaign may fall upon them.

    Those Meddling Kids - Sometimes, the people who identify a Mage aren't adults; they're just kids. It is an adult misconception to believe children are innately harmless. Even if adults will usually disregard or even chide any complaints that Mr. Wilson or Mrs. Abercrombie down the road are a for-real witch, children can be seriously disruptive. Their curious tendencies, copious amounts of free time, and childish fearlessness can make them a threat in ways adults often simply are not and cannot be.

    Perhaps a child sneaks into a Mage's sanctum through the basement window and takes pictures on a camera phone, then spreads them about the schoolyard. Suddenly, the whole neighbourhood looks askew at the Awakened. Or what happens when the kids follow the Mage out to a confrontation with a spirit in the woods? Or keep trespassing on the Mage's Hallow? What happens when, inspired by Hollywood and/or religious fundamentalists, a group of kids grab their parents' guns and decide that thou shalt not suffer a witch to live?

    The Witch-Hunter - These people are the genuine violent article. These are people who are or may one day become Hunters. The Mage represents something odious to them; something noxious. They may not try to kill the Mage, but they will try and drive them away through acts of vandalism and arson. If those fail, they may become genuinely violent.

    Similar to the Puritan, Witch-Hunters often have an agenda against the Mage before they become aware of their occult activities, but it's not necessary that this is the case. Many Witch-Hunters are simply NIMBYish pragmatists, who understand that magic exists and is dangerous; not personally hating the Mage but certainly wanting them to relocate. Sadly, few remain that way for long, as most Mages are as reluctant to leave their homes as anyone and violence becomes inevitable.

    Nails in your tires, foam in your exhaust pipe, sugar in your gas tank; painted messages on your door, a brick through your window, an oily rag and gasoline in your basement. If none of those get the message across, it's time to get blatant.

    ---

    And... That's it for now.

    ---

    EDITS

    -Tweaked Labyrinth merit to focus it a little better.
    Last edited by Axelgear; 08-12-2016, 03:29 PM.

  • #2
    I suddenly want to play a Guardian again...

    Comment


    • #3
      I like it. I think the Labyrinth should have a bit more active use (roping seekers into it to get them lost in its dead ends), but I'm not sure how to represent that mechanically. Of if that level of granularity is even desired. If so, maybe: Anyone with Mystery Cult Initiation into the Labyrinth reduces one Mage's Curiosity by 1 per Chapter (as they serve as a convincing smoke screen and distraction to other seekers)?

      What about tracking Curiosity on a per-person basis, like Disquiet? People affected seek out more, with new exposure advancing it until it becomes contagious (like 1E Disquiet). Labyrinths could then bleed off the Condition/effect.


      Malkydel: "And the Machine dictated; let there be adequate illumination."
      Yossarian: "And lo, it was optimal."

      Comment


      • #4
        My aim for designing this was a fairly low-resolution system; something that reduces ST micromanagement burden. Tracking them individually is more something better managed as a narrative effect by the ST, rather than this system. In my opinion, anyway.

        If you wanted to introduce a Disquiet-like system, where the Nimbus of a Mage actively captures the unwary, you could do that too. I was thinking of doing a Long-Term Nimbus system next, so I might integrate that idea there? The idea of a Nimbus catching people in general affects the tone a bit, though.

        Still pondering the effects of the Labyrinth merit, though.

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        • #5
          If I might make a suggestion -I think Masochistic Psyche might be better off being called "Misery Tourist"

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          • #6
            Definitely going to draw on this - I want to try and really play up the mystery-addicts part of mage in my next go and having sleeper echoes of it is excellent.

            Incidentally, have you ever read the Magicians series, by Lev Grossman? There's a secondary character (who's basically a protagonist in the middle book) that touches beautifully on these things.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by That Other Guy View Post
              If I might make a suggestion -I think Masochistic Psyche might be better off being called "Misery Tourist"
              I could. Any particular reason? If it's offensive or insulting in some way, I meant no offense.

              Originally posted by Nicias View Post
              Definitely going to draw on this - I want to try and really play up the mystery-addicts part of mage in my next go and having sleeper echoes of it is excellent.

              Incidentally, have you ever read the Magicians series, by Lev Grossman? There's a secondary character (who's basically a protagonist in the middle book) that touches beautifully on these things.
              Glad you like it. There's a bunch of occult theorizing that could be justified - even contradictory theories - that can come from this.

              As for the Magicians, it's a safe bet that if there's a written fiction series out there, I haven't read it.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Axelgear View Post

                I could. Any particular reason? If it's offensive or insulting in some way, I meant no offense.t.
                Oh, nothingg like that - I just felt that "Masochistic Psyche" is a bit of a mouthful, and could do with a punchier name!

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Axelgear View Post
                  My aim for designing this was a fairly low-resolution system; something that reduces ST micromanagement burden. Tracking them individually is more something better managed as a narrative effect by the ST, rather than this system. In my opinion, anyway.
                  Fair enough. I knew the idea would introduce more overhead the moment I typed it, and that it wouldn't be for everyone.

                  Originally posted by Axelgear View Post
                  If you wanted to introduce a Disquiet-like system, where the Nimbus of a Mage actively captures the unwary, you could do that too. I was thinking of doing a Long-Term Nimbus system next, so I might integrate that idea there? The idea of a Nimbus catching people in general affects the tone a bit, though.
                  Feel free.


                  Malkydel: "And the Machine dictated; let there be adequate illumination."
                  Yossarian: "And lo, it was optimal."

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    You mind linking me the preview with the Stakes and Torches rule?


                    "My Homebrew Hub"
                    Age of Azar
                    The Kingdom of Yamatai

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Deionscribe View Post
                      You mind linking me the preview with the Stakes and Torches rule?
                      Voici.

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