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  • [ST Vault Open Development] Weresquids

    Hello,

    Several years ago I posted a thread on this forum with an idea I head for a cephalopod-based alternative to the Uratha. Ever since the Storyteller's Vault opened up to Chronicles of Darkness material, I have toyed with the idea of compiling, retooling, and publishing the Kun-Shulor as a Werewolf supplement, which is hopefully something a handful of people would find interesting.

    To that end, I thought I would start a thread of essentially Open Development blogs on the weresquids, where I can share my thoughts, work through my ideas, and perhaps even get feedback.

    The reasons I'm doing this are multiple: The first is that I feel this format will keep me motivated, since I'll be communicating my ideas with someone other than myself (and I guess my shadow-self, but to be honest, that guy's a toxic jerk); the second is that a lot is changing between what I posted back in 2015 and what will be the finished product (more on that later); the third is that I feel that by hearing (reading) what others have to say (type), I'll be able to create something stronger and more nuanced, since there are aspects or considerations I might overlook otherwise (almost every time I make some notes about a mechanic or story point, I'm reminded just how intricate the second-edition werewolf is; every facet of their being contains myriad implications, some of which aren't readily obvious).

    So, to that end, welcome. I'll kick this off with an overview and some basics.

    First off, what is a weresquid? Easy: A person who can transform into a squid. They are to the sea what the Uratha are to the land. Sort of. There are plenty of differences between the two, and plenty of different ways they can be used in a Werewolf story. In some territories, wolves and squids might work side-by-side, packs and shoals intermingling, sharing sacred hunts under the approving glare of the moon's love-mad gaze. In other places, the squids might be sinister antagonists, lurking in grottoes and lakes and abandoned swimming pools, plotting Sagrim-Ur-knows-what, causing all sorts of problems for Luna's chosen waywards. For others still, the squids may be lost and confused and afraid, dealing with exigencies of their shifting bodies and an alien intelligence whose agenda is nigh-incomprehensible, all while in the dark of night, enraged beastmen howl for their destruction.

    So why weresquids? There are several answers to this one. I think that animal shifters in general are pretty popular (look at how many attempts there have been to create a second edition of Changing Breeds). In addition, the Werewolf world is such a nuanced and expansive one, you get the feeling that almost anything could be hiding in the shadows. This also came about from watching videos of Humboldt squids hunting and thinking about parallels between their behaviors and those of Canis lupus. There are some themes that I think would be interesting to explore in a game of Werewolf, such as the question of what a werewolf really is, deep down. At heart though, the real sinthome dwelling in the core of this strange dream is: I think cephalopods are really cool. I've adored them for a very long time, and this is the path that my imagination has chosen to travel.

    Themes

    Alienation from the self: Strange things are happening to you. Your body has transformed, and sometimes moves on your own. Thoughts that aren’t yours invade your mind. Compulsions inscrutable and sometimes revolting vibrate through your nervous system, and you’re starting to get scared. To whom can you turn? There’s little mythological basis for what you are, nothing that makes a whole lot of sense anyway. Even the Uratha have their founding legends and little tribes for support and community, but nothing exists like that for you. Try, then, to find others like yourself and compare notes.

    Psychic powers through the lens of feral shamanism: I've long been fascinated by the presentation of "traditional" (eg, spread through New Age philosophies, PAPERCLIP, the general insanity of the Cold War) psychic phenomena: Telepathy, telekinesis, remote viewing, second sight, and so on. But, these abilities are almost always presented through a thematic of science fiction (transdimensional projection, Kirlian photography, Thetans, dolphins and crystals) or a type of Orientalist occultism (Blavatsky et al). With everything else I have planned for this project, I see a grand opportunity to explore psychic powers from a different angle, blending the spiritual symbolism of the Hisil with the supposed powers of the mind unlocked.

    Mood

    Slipperiness: It’s your skin and lack of bones. It’s the dearth of solidity behind so many things in your life now. It’s edge cases and maybe-sos that have come to dominate the answers to questions you’d never think to ask. It’s wriggling out of the grasp of some hulking beastman who wants you dead for reasons that make sense only to it.

    That's it for now. This first post is just to get my brain-orb rolling. Feel free to leave comments with thoughts and feedback throughout this process ("You're forgetting about this mechanic," "What kind of absolute tool thinks anyone actually is going to care about this sort of thing," etc.). Next time, I'll write a bit about the specifics of the weresquid template, their backstory, and some of the changes between this version and the previous (Spoiler: They're no longer mind flayer knock-offs).

    Alright, see you later. I'm going to drink some more of this "hard seltzer," listen to Japanese city pop, and figure out what to do next as a strange fog descends outside my crepuscular window.

  • #2
    For what counts, I'm both interested and supportive of the idea. Looking forward it.


    Cinder's Comprehensive Collection of Creations - Homebrew Hub

    I write about Beast: The Primordial a lot

    This is what I'm working on

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    • #3
      Seconding Cinder. Sounds cool, I'm interested.
      Question: Any Lovecraftian influences? The invading thoughts thing sounds a bit like the Dreamvisions in Call of Cthulhu, and I mean, Weresquids in a 'War' form (half-squid half-human) would probably look kinda Cthulhu-esque, which is why I am asking.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Wormwood View Post
        Seconding Cinder. Sounds cool, I'm interested.
        Question: Any Lovecraftian influences? The invading thoughts thing sounds a bit like the Dreamvisions in Call of Cthulhu, and I mean, Weresquids in a 'War' form (half-squid half-human) would probably look kinda Cthulhu-esque, which is why I am asking.
        Thank you both. Pertaining to your question, I think there will be some Lovecraftiana in parts (especially with Cthulhu imagery), but it won't be the only influence by far because 1) Lovecraft has kind of oversaturated a lot of fantasy/horror/sci-fi media, so I'd like to do some that deviates from that; and 2) as I've gotten older, my relationship to and feelings about H.P.'s work has grown complex, considering everything he was (very overtly) about.

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        • #5
          Hello again,

          Today, I'll talk some about where weresquids come from, as well as what makes the template distinct from traditional werewolves.

          The potential for becoming a weresquid seems to lie not in the blood, but in the mind. What connects individuals fated to join the Kun-shulor remains unclear, though a few patterns tend to emerge: Some possess a degree of psychic sensitivity or minor talent; a number have a deep curiosity and a near-insatiable desire to grasp the ineffable; more than a few already hold some connection to the sea, making their living as fishers or marine biologists, the survivors of shipwrecks and tsunamis, devotees of Kanaloa or Saint Brandon. These are just trends, however.

          Whatever the root cause may be, eventually those marked to become weresquids feel a strange pressure within their minds, commonly called the Call. The Call often first takes form in dreams of a vast ocean, of swimming freely beneath the waves, of a near-alien being unfathomably large and belonging to a bizarre mish-mash of taxonomic families. From there, a compulsion begins to develop. The individual finds himself distracted in his waking hours, thinking constantly on the deeps, his body acting in some instances as if on autopilot, as a compulsion swells inside of him to seek out large bodies of water—oceans and seas are preferable, but lakes and swamps will do for the landlocked.

          At some point, always at night, the compulsion grows to great, and the Called individual goes from just staring at the water to wading (or even diving) into it. Once he is fully submerged, the First Change takes over. His body warps, elongating, sprouting tentacles, bones dissolving, skin turning to pliable rubber, instinct honed to a limbic sparkle. He is now a weresquid, known in the spirit’s tongue as Kun-shulor, a creature of two-squared worlds: flesh and shadow, land and sea.

          Although the initial transformation into a molluscan monstrosity takes place in the water, this does not mean that the weresquid’s First Change never results in any human casualties. The Kun-shulor in Kirul form may lurk at the water’s edge in wait for passersby, or go after a light watercraft. Regardless of what happens, the next morning will certainly be a shock, as the new weresquid comes to on a beach or miles from land, trying to make sense of everything.

          It is understandable that many in such a situation will be keen to ask: What is going on here? Sometimes there’s an expletive as well. The answer lies well below them.

          Above and below, actually, but we’ll get there eventually.

          There is an entity to whom all Kun-shulor are tied. At the bottom of a yawning trench in the Pacific Ocean, residing in a grotto where the barrier between Flesh and Spirit is no thicker than a medusa’s mesoglea, entombed within a Place-That-Isn’t save for a few somnolent tentacles, lies a being known commonly among weresquids as the Deep Maker, Masafu’ul, an entity whose existence poses a great mystery. Where did the Deep Maker come from? Why does it choose certain individuals to infuse with decapod essence? How does it get into certain people’s heads in the first place? What does it want? This last one, especially, weighs heavily on the minds of many weresquids; it certainly seems to want its progeny to do something.

          --

          Life as a weresquid shares some overlapping similarities with life as a werewolf: Both are half-spirit shapeshifting predators with access to a world of Darwinian symbolism; both have five forms that each fill a specific niche in their hunts; both have Auspices, Renown, Gifts, and Rites; both have access to advanced regeneration and Primal Urge; both can participate in the Siskur-Dah.

          There are a number of important differences, however. The Auspices of the Kun-Shulor are tied to the tides; the tidal conditions present when and where a werequid undergoes her First Change determine her Auspice, each one of which influences the approach a weresquid takes to the hunt. A Low Tide weresquid finds ways to tempt his prey to come to him, while a High Tide one brings ocean to dry land instead.

          There are four Tidal Auspices: High, Ebb, Low, and Flood. I'll go into the details of these in a later post.

          Speaking of that number, the Kun-shulor have access to only four Renown rather than five. They may possess Cunning, Honor, Purity, and Wisdom, but not Glory. Perhaps it's something about their nature that prevents them from taking the kinds of overt actions required to impress the spirits that way. Perhaps it is the will of the Deep Maker that weresquids remain a subtle breed.

          In addition, weresquids do not have Renown brands. They do not receive Renown from the Lunes, but instead from communion with the Deep Maker. After a worthy deed is committed, the weresquid must perform a small, quiet ritual of meditation to establish a direct telepathic link with their creator, who bestows Renown in the form of shimmering threads within the questant's nervous system, visible to those with the proper sight.

          Weresquids do not have Tribes. They just don't have the same sense of shared mythic history that the Uratha do, and their relationship with their creator has a different tone to it. They instead, when talking of overarching groups, possess what are known as Mythoi, defined by one's personal relationship to the Deep Maker. For the sake of an analogy, Mythoi can be compared (to an extent) to the Agendas of Demon. Kun-shulor of the same Mythos might band together to form a shoal, but it's not always the case.

          Enough talk about what weresquids lack; let's move on to advantages they have over werewolves. To start with, all Kun-shulor are telepathic. They can sense thoughts and feelings, allowing them in many cases to preempt their prey and catch them by surprise. As with many parts of their being, weresquids are better at taking than giving; without certain Gifts, they don't automatically have two-way telepathic communication. That said, with the right enhancements, the Kun-shulor can do more than just read thoughts, but steal them for themselves, robbing victims of memories, competencies, and even Conditions.

          The forms that a weresquid can take are especially adapted for the water. The five transformations are called Hishu, Fa'ra, Kirul, Kafu'ul, and Adalku. The Hishu and Fa'ra forms breathe air, while Kafu'ul and Adalku are aquatic; Kirul is amphibious. Even when in the wrong form for the current environment, a weresquid can hold her breath underwater or on land for Stamina + Primal Urge minutes before needing to worry about drowning. The Adalku form generally resembles that of the Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas), though variations do occur.

          Unfortunately, the Kun-shulor do also possess an additional weakness: The aquatic nature of their shapeshifting means that weresquids can't stand extremely dry environments, and suffer a penalty to physical actions (dependent on form) when in the presences of the Arid Environmental Tilt.

          I think that's all I'll cover today. Some of these things are subject to change as I hammer out the details (for instance, I'm still fine-tuning how weresquid telepathy should mechanically work). Next time, I suppose I'll talk more about Auspices and Mythoi.

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          • #6
            Oh, I should probably talk a bit first about a part I'm excising from earlier editions of this idea. (I meant to post this yesterday but decided to get drunk instead.)

            I shall be omitting the mind flayer references present in my previous attempt at the weresquids. There are several justifications going into this decision: The most surface-level is that, since I plan to sell the final PDF on Storyteller's Vault, I would like to avoid Wizards of the Coast's copyright lawyers, as the Illithids are not Open License.

            Secondly, I felt that the brain-eating angle was a somewhat shoehorned in. It made the weresquids weird and creepy, to be sure, but perhaps not in a way that I wanted them to be. I began to feel that cerebrophagy evoked a type of horror that wasn't quite what I desired in this project; it is, in my opinion, too heinous, too alienating for players, painting the weresquids strictly as antagonists or threats.

            Speaking of antagonists, mind flayers themselves, taken holistically, I realized, are probably too evil (bordering on camp, in fact) to use as protagonists in a Chronicles of Darkness game as-is. I know that these games take as a central premise flipping the script and showing things from the monster's point of view, but I think that Werewolf isn't quite the right venue to explore those themes.

            (That said, as an offshoot brainstorming session once, I realized that one could portray mind flayers as a type of bizarre Claimed, perhaps led by an idigam--manifesting either as an Elder Brain for a local threat, or Ilsensine for a more global antagonist.)

            The primary thing that this changes is that the parts of the template involving eating brains have been removed. There are some small nods that remain (in my head I still picture the Fa'ra form looking somewhat like an Illithid), and I'm making sure to replace anything that struck me as particularly interesting that was lost with something equally engaging, but overall the weresquids will be much more unique of a concept.

            Also, as I write this post, I'm realizing that I still sorely need to come up with an English-language epithet for the Kun-shulor along the lines of "Forsaken," that type of semi-poetic autonym all these monster-groups love to use.

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            • #7
              So, today I'll talk about the Tidal Auspices.
              Like Uratha, weresquids possess an Auspice, determined by the tidal conditions present at the site of their First Change. (Nota bene that this means that two weresquids who undergo the Change at the same time in two different parts of the world might have different Auspices--such is the sloshy way of the sea.)
              Auspice refines the approach that a weresquid takes to the hunt. The Kun-shulor don't consider their Auspices as set roles the same way the Uratha do, but more as a grouping of abilities, natures, and approaches that can be understood as taking part of a given category. That difference is really academic, though, frankly, and more comes down to the fact that weresquids don't think of the Deep Maker as an assigner of destinies (although squid comparatists sometimes wonder how much the Deep Maker actually has to do with Auspice).

              There are four Tidal Auspices: High, Ebb, Low, and Flood. Each comes with a number of mechanical effects, which,
              Well, okay. Back when I said that the second-edition werewolf template is incredibly complex? One of the primary reasons for that is the Auspices. Breaking it down, in Werewolf, a Lunar Auspice provides the following benefits:
              • A primary Renown
              • An additional dot in one of three Skills
              • A Moon Gift
              • Two favored Shadow Gifts
              • A Hunter's Aspect
              • A special ability that can be used once per chapter
              That's a lot to consider, to unpack, to process.

              So, for the sake of my own sanity, I will be paring down the specific mechanics of the Tidal Auspices, while still making each Auspice feel thematic, evocative, and unique.

              I figure that Renown, Skills, and Shadow Gifts can remain painlessly, so long as I adjust them accordingly (I might end up designing a handful of new Shadow Gifts if thematically necessary to fill any uncovered niches). Beyond that, each Auspice is granted a power called a Tuning—a psychic ability that falls somewhere between Moon Gift and Auspice Benefit. The Tuning at its base level generally represents a certain Supernatural Merit, that increases in potency and flexibility as Auspice Renown increases, and the weresquid becomes more mentally synchronized with their dreaming creator.

              For example, the High Tide Auspice (author’s note: I really need to figure out if I should be making up some First Tongue vocab for all these new terms) is about the disintegration of barriers, bringing sea to land, saturating the prey with an inhospitable environment. To that end, the High Tide Tuning works similarly to the Medium Merit (albeit only for spirits); at higher levels of Auspice Renown, the High Tide weresquid can invite a spirit into their own body for increased power, extend the range of Manifestation Conditions, and even pull spirits from one side of the Gauntlet to the other.

              There are a lot of details still to work out, so I won’t go too far into the nitty-gritty here, but that’s the general idea from which I am working. I’ll end by summing up the themes of each Auspice.

              Low Tide: Revelation & temptation
              Ebb Tide: Entrapment & retreat
              Flood Tide: Aggression & paranoia
              High Tide: Saturation & intercession

              I wanted to talk about Mythoi next, but I honestly still haven’t fully worked out those (I find myself working on this in fits & starts, between work that I do for money, when the inspiration actually strikes, which is not always consistent or convenient). So, instead, I’ll write something about squid biology and how it relates to the Kun-shulor. Get ready to learn about denticles!
              Last edited by espritdecalmar; 03-13-2019, 03:35 PM.

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              • #8
                I once joked on Twitter, back when I had a Twitter, back before I had come to the realization that voluntarily trapping myself in the salle du panoptique with a cacophony of omnipresent always-on hot takes was driving me both figuratively and literally insane, that if some aggressively coiffed gang of neo-Nazis tried to American History X me, I would probably just atonally recite a bunch of marine biology facts at them.

                Anyway today I'm going to talk about squids.

                As you probably know (but just in case you don't), squids are cephalopods, a class of marine mollusks which include also octopuses, cuttlefish, nautiluses, and a few unique outliers such as Vampyroteuthis infernalis, commonly known as the vampire squid, a shy critter who is more coprophage than hemovore. They are known for their dexterity, their knack for trickery, and, most surprisingly for those who still hold anthropocentric views of the natural world, their intelligence. Many moons ago, cephalopods were even the top predators of the Earth's seas (it helped that most every other lifeform at the time was still more or less sessile). Some people even believe that these animals might be extraterrestrial in origin (the author would like to state here that he does not share this view).

                Squids are decapods; they possess eight arms and two longer tentacles ending in clubs. Both types of appendage are lined with suckers. In a number of species, these suckers are themselves lined with tooth-like hooks, known as denticles, used to latch onto prey (from a game design perspective, this is why weresquids can deal lethal damage with their natural weaponry). The mouth of a squid is armed with a chitinous beak, similar to a bird's, inside of which is a rough tongue called a radula, found in most mollusk species except for bivalves. Squids range in size from 10 millimeters in length (Idiosepius thailandicus) to 10 meters (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni).

                Squids in the wild act as both predator and prey. What they feed on, and what feeds on them, obviously various according to size and geography. The teuthids have a number of hunting strategies: Their strong arms allow them to lash out at prey, overwhelming even larger animals quite easily (the aforementioned denticles also help). Some species also inject prey with a paralytic toxin present in their saliva. Others possess bioluminesence, used to mislead and disorient their meals. The Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas), subject animal of this fan-project, are known to hunt cooperatively, coordinating their movements to take in prey.

                Jet propulsion allows squids to quickly escape from the clutches of predators. Ink is also a common defense mechanism, as the substance's obfuscating opacity and foul taste buy the cephalopods precious moments. Although not matching the dizzying skills of octopuses and cuttlefish, squids can also alter the color of their skin as a form of aquatic camouflage, often in the form of illuminating themselves in order to become indistinguishable to deeper predators from the light-soaked waters of above.

                What must it be like, I wonder, to live in a world knowing that you are surrounded by beings who want to eat you? That your greatest defense against this hostile environment is to misdirect, confuse, and lie so that nobody can discern your true nature? That must be a very stressful existence, unless you convince yourself that the lie is just another facet of your personal truth, a raiment you naturally drape over yourself like the cottons and silks that other animals prefer to wear.

                Cephalopods have the most complex nervous systems among invertebrates. Squid brains are mosaic affairs in the form of a ring around the esophagus, ensconced within a cranium of cartilage. The thought processes of cephalopods tend toward decentralization; octopuses famously have more neurons in their arms than in their heads, meaning that individual limbs can take actions independent of anthropomorphic decision-making systems. The arms of cephalopods additionally possess chemoreceptors, allowing them to taste as they feel. (This is why when handling octopuses, one should refrain from wearing perfumes or strong lotions; to them, these chemicals are repulsive.) Many of the ways in which cephalopods act challenge our preconceived notions of intelligence in animals in general and invertebrates in particular. They have been observed solving puzzles, displaying individual personalities, using tools, forming long-term memories, engaging in play-like activities, exploring their environs with curiosity, and using teamwork. What's particularly mysterious about these behaviors is that most cephalopods are solitary creatures, while most of these types of activities are associated with more gregarious species, or at least those who stick around to pass on accumulated knowledge to their offspring.

                Some of the behaviors of the Humboldt squid that had in the past been associated with aggression or hunger are now theorized to stem from curiosity. When a diablo rojo suddenly wraps itself around a marine camera, perhaps it is not attempting to eat the device, but rather to learn more about it, in the most effective way at its avail. These are the questions a squid might find most imposing: What does this thing feel like? What does it taste like? Why does it display itself in such a way? How will it respond to my touch?

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