Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Supreme Brainskull Commander Patron for Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG

Supreme Brainskull Commander

Even interplanetary chaos needs a leader! Supreme Brainskull Commander leads his hordes of mutant Brainskull soldiers from his flagship, high above the planet, channeling his power through willing minions on the world below. His aims are as inscrutable as the motivation of those who foolishly choose to follow him. Is it the lust for power that drives them? The allure of high technology? Nihilistic madness? Best not to ask such questions. Just let the power of the cosmos course through your soul, oh supplicant of the Supreme Brainskull Commander.

Invoke Patron check results:

12-13               Brainskull is busy conquering other worlds. He waves a dismissive hand and a hologram of a hypnotic, swirling eyhe appears above the caster’s head. For 1d6+CL rounds, all enemies within 20’ must make a DC15 will save or be mesmerized by its spinning patterns. Those mesmerized are held immobile and cannot take any action until either the eye dissipates or the target is attacked or vigorously shaken.
14-17               A 5’ X 5’ square of silver glowing cosmic ooze appears beneath one target’s feet, immediately attacking with a pseudopod: Silver Glowing Cosmic Ooze (Init (always attacks last), Atk pseudopod +4 melee (1d4); AC 10; HD 2d8; MV 5’; climb 5’; Act 2d20; SP half damage from slicing and piercing weapons; SV Fort +6, Ref -8, Will -6, AL N). The ooze will use its second action each round to send out a psychic blast at one of the caster’s enemies within 50’. The target of the blast must make a DC 10 Will save or take 1d4 points of damage of intense cranial pain and suffer a nosebleed.
18-19               A freeze ray pistol materializes in the caster’s hand. Dmg Die 1d4 + Special, Rof 1, Spd -1, Range 80/160/240. Persons hit by the freeze ray must make a DC 15 Agility roll or be slowed to ½ movement for 1d3 rounds, with no other allowable actions. The freeze ray is good for 1d6 shots, then disappears into a nanite cloud that flies off into space.
20-23               A heat ray pistol materializes in the caster’s hand. Dmg Die 1d6 + Special, Rof 1, Spd -1, Range 80/160/240. Persons hit by the heat ray take 1d6 of fire damage and must make a DC 15 Agility roll or catch fire. Those on fire take 1d6 damage per round. A burning victim may take 1 round to smother the flames (giving up all other actions on that round and dropping any objects in hand) to make a DC 12 Agility roll to smother the flames. The fire burns until smothered. The ray is good for 1d8 shots, then disappears into a nanite cloud that flies off into space.
24-27               A shrink ray pistol materializes in the caster’s hand. Dmg: Special, Rof 1, Spd -1, Range 80/160/240 cone. The ray of this pistol is a cone expanding from the barrel of the weapon to a width of 50’ at its longest range. Those caught in the cone must make a DC 15 Agility roll or be shrunk to ¼ their original size. Shrunken victims suffer -8 to attacks and damage and lose ¾ of their hit points. At the end of 1 turn, victims return to normal size, attacks, damage, and hit points (minus any hit points lost while shrunk). The ray is good for 1d3 shots, then disappears into a nanite cloud that flies off into space. The ray is indiscriminate of friend or foe. All in the cone must make the save or suffer the consequences.
28-29               Two Brainskull Minions materialize next to the caster. They attack any foes of the caster. Brainskull Minions (Init +0; Atk Death Ray Rifle +0 missile (3d6); AC 17; HD 1d8+2; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SV Fort +0, Ref +0, Will +0, AL C). They will remain for CL+1 rounds of combat, at which point they are lifted into the sky along columns of blue light. If killed, they, and all their equipment, disintegrate into a cloud of nanites that flies off into space.
30-31               Two Brainskull Minions and a Giant Insect materialize next to the caster. They attack all foes of the caster. Brainskull Minions (Init +0; Atk Death Ray Rifle +0 missile (3d6); AC 17; HD 1d8+2; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SV Fort +0, Ref +0, Will +0, AL C). Giant Insect (Init +1; Atk Bite +2 melee (3d6); tomp +2 melee (1d6); AC 18; HD 4d10; MV 40’; Act 1d20, 1d16; SV Fort +2, Ref +1, Will +0, AL N). They will remain for CL+1d6 rounds of combat, at which point they are lifted into the sky along columns of blue light. If killed, they, and all their equipment, disintegrate into a cloud of nanites that flies off into space.
32+                  Two Brainskull Minions, a Giant Insect, and a Brainskull Battle Mecha materialize next to the caster. They attack all foes of the caster. Brainskull Minions (Init +0; Atk Death Ray Rifle +0 missile (3d6); AC 17; HD 1d8+2; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SV Fort +0, Ref +0, Will +0, AL C). Giant Insect (Init +1; Atk Bite +2 melee (3d6); tomp +2 melee (1d6); AC 18; HD 4d10; MV 40’; Act 1d20, 1d16; SV Fort +2, Ref +1, Will +0, AL N). Brainskull Battle Mecha (Init +3; Atk Pincer Claws X 2 (4d6+6); Stomp (5d10); AC 20; HD 8d10, MV 60’; Act 2d24; SP: Crit on 20-24, uses Crit Table 6: Giants; SV Fort +6, Ref +2, Will +2, AL N). They will remain for CL+1d30 rounds of combat, at which point they are lifted into the sky along columns of blue light. If killed, they, and all their equipment, disintegrate into a cloud of nanites that flies off into space. Note that the Mecha is piloted by a third Brainskull Minion, who will emerge from the Mecha and attack if the Mecha is destroyed. His stats are the same as the other Brainskull Minions.

Patron Taint: Supreme Brainskull Commander

When patron taint is indicated for Supreme Brainskull Commander, roll 1d6 on the table below. When a caster has acquired all six taints at all levels of effect, there is no need to continue rolling any more.

Roll                 Result

1                      The caster’s eyelids permanently fall off, his eyes become larger, and his pupils turn bright red. The caster can see 20’ in darkness. If this result is rolled a second time, the caster’s face assumes a skeletal aspect with green polyps hanging from the jowls. He suffers a permanent loss of 2 personality points. If this result is rolled a third time, all of the caster’s hair falls out of his head, his cranium swells, and the tissue of his skull softens, conforming to the shape of his now massive brain. He suffers a further permanent loss of 2 points of personality.

2                      The spellcaster’s voice becomes nasal to the point of sounding ridiculous. He suffers a permanent loss of 1 point of personality. If this result is rolled a second time, he inadvertently blurts out “Ack!” in place of some words. This can affect spellcasting negatively. Each time a spell is cast, the caster must make a Will save. On a roll of 1, the caster suffers a -1 penalty to his spell check roll. If this result is rolled a third time, the casters every other word is “Ack!”. Each time a spell is cast, the caster must make a DC 15 will save or suffer a -2 penalty to his spellcheck.

3                      The spellcaster gets asthma and suffers a permanent loss of 1 point of Stamina. If this result is rolled a second time, the caster is stricken with more severe asthma and is constantly coughing, suffering the effects of the earlier manifestation of asthma and and negating any chance of surprise. If the result is rolled a third time, the caster must seek and receive a glass-bubble-helmet-nitrogen-breathing apparatus or die within 24 hours. The Brainskull Commander Supreme will gladly exchange such an apparatus for, say, the caster’s hand or foot, for his experiments.

4                      The spellcaster develops and unhealthy obsession with stars and planets. They are all he wants to talk about. If this result is rolled a second time, the caster is convinced that everyone around him knows something about celestial bodies that they are holding back from him. He will take desperate measures, just short of killing, to get these secrets. If this result is rolled a third time, the caster must spend a night under the open sky or he will become so disturbed and disconsolate that he suffers a -6 to all spellchecks until he can do so. Clouded nights don’t help – he must spend a night under mostly-clear skies.

5                      The caster must undergo an experimental operation that replaces a finger or toe (player’s choice) with a tentacle, insect claw, or other non-human (and likely non-beneficial) digit. If this result is rolled a second time, an entire hand or foot (player’s choice) must be sacrificed and replaced. If this result is rolled a third time, an entire limb must be sacrificed and replaced.

6                      The caster becomes emaciated and unhealthy, permanently losing 1 point of Stamina. If this result is rolled a second time, the caster shrinks to a height of 4’ tall, permanently losing 2 points of Strength. If this result is rolled a third time, the caster’s internal organs are transformed into those of a Brainkiller Minion. He will be unable to eat normal food and must subsist on a diet of insects, worms, and cosmic ooze.

Patron Spells: Supreme Brainskull Commander

Loyal followers of Supreme Brainskull Commander gain access to three unique spells, as follows:

Level 1: Sensor Array
Level 2: Eye of Ackackerack
Level 3: Chariots of the Gods

Spellburn: Supreme Brainskull Commander

Supreme Brainskull Commander needs scouts to plan the final invasion. Therefore, he reluctantly gives you favors on the advice of his ambassador. When a caster utilizes spellburn, roll 1d4 and consult the table below or build off the suggestions to create an event specific to your home campaign:

Roll                 Spellburn Result

1                      A blue beam shoots down from above the caster, seemingly setting him alight with blue flame, manifesting as stat point loss.

2                      The caster is granted the spellburn bonus, but must plant the Brainskull flag (10 of which appear in the caster’s hand) on the 10 highest peaks within a 100 mile radius within the next 2 weeks.

3                      In a flicker, the caster disappears and reappears. He feels that he has been abducted and probed for several hours, resulting in stat loss.

4                      Supreme Brainskull commander needs brains! The caster may burn up to 15 points of spellburn with no ill-effect if he can extract a brain, intact, from a human being who has not been dead for longer than an hour before the extraction. As soon as the brain is extracted, Supreme Brainskull Commander will teleport the specimen to his flagship for experimentation. If the spellcaster fails to procure the specimen within 48 hours, he suffers the full 15 points + 1d4 extra points, spread across ability scores at the judge’s discretion.

Sensor Array

Level: 1 (Supreme Brainskull Commander)  Range: Varies  Duration: Varies  Casting time: 2 
rounds  Save: Varies (when appropriate), see below.

General:                     The caster’s ability to send and/or receive communication is enhanced.

Manifestation:            Roll 1d4: (1) A circular pulse, in the form of expanding red                                            rings, expand out from the caster. (2) A steady beeping sound                                        emanates from the caster. (3) Visible sine waves spread out                                            from the caster’s head in all directions. (4) Two metal antennae                                      sprout from the caster’s head. Sparks of electricity crackle                                              between them.

1                      Lost, failure, and patron taint. 

2-11                 Lost, failure

12-13              The caster’s sense of smell is greatly enhanced. His nose becomes so attuned
                        to the differences in odors that he can parse the smell of poison in a banquet                 meal, can uniquely identify the smell of individuals so as to know their                         identity (at least to separate their individual odors from one another) and their             relative location (though not their exact distance). Very faint odors can be                     detected up to 30’ away. This ability lasts for 1d3+CL turns.

14-17               Sounds within a 20’ radius of the caster are amplified greatly to the caster.                   There is a dampening that occurs so that suddenly loud noises will not deafen               the caster if he makes a DC 8 Fortitude save. Failure to make the save deafens               the caster for 1d6 rounds. Noises are amplified only to the caster’s ears. The                 caster can clearly hear a pin drop or a person shifting their weight. If the caster             does not move and concentrates, he can even hear and parse out individual                   heartbeats of those within range. This is cumulative with the smell sense and                 lasts 1d4+CL turns.

18-19               The caster’s sense of touch is heightened dramatically. The caster can feel                     slight temperature changes (such as a person’s face flushing red) or small air                 movements (the flutter of butterfly wings) up to 30’ away. As a result, the                     caster cannot be surprised, gains +2 to initiative, and gains and armor class                   bonus of +1. The caster can also sense secret doors by running his fingers                     along the wall, and so forth. Extreme hear or cold, however, only affect him as             normal. This ability is cumulative with the smell and hearing increases, as the               caster chooses. He need not accept these other increases, though he has that                   option if he so chooses. This effect lasts for 1d5+CL turns.

20-23               The caster’s sense of balance is heightened to such an extent that he gains an additional 1d10 action each round, gains +3 to initiative rolls and +2 to AC. He can also sneak silently and climb sheer surfaces like a neutral thief of the same level. This ability is cumulative with smell, hearing, and touch bonuses, as the caster chooses. He need not accept these other increases, though he has the option if he so chooses. If he does accept the touch bonuses along with the heightened balance, bonuses to initiative and AC are also cumulative. The effect lasts for 1d6+CL turns.

24-27               The caster’s sense of sight is heightened. He can see objects as if they were 10X closer. Small objects may be magnified up to 100X in the caster’s sight. This allows the caster to see secret doors within 20’ and allows the caster to find traps like a neutral thief of the same level. This ability is cumulative with the smell, hearing, touch, and balance increases, as the caster chooses. He need not accept these other increases, though he has that option if he so chooses. This effect lasts for 1d8+CL turns.

28-29               The caster gains x-ray vision, allowing him to see through up to 20’ of stone and 40’ of wood or other less-dense material. As long as he is not distracted and can concentrate for 1 round. Lead, gold, or silver foil this x-ray vision. This ability is cumulative with the smell, hearing, touch, balance, and sight increases, as the caster chooses. He need not accept these other increases, though he has that option if he so chooses. This effect lasts for 1d4 hours.

30-31               For a few moments, the caster’s full range of enhanced perceptions (as previously detailed), rises up to a bird’s-eye “view” (keep in mind that all senses are active, not just sight) 60’ above the caster’s body. The perception “array” or “net” is in the shape of a cone, beginning at the apex of the 60’ and expanding out and downward, with the caster in the exact center of the base of the cone, which extends in a 100’ radius out from the caster. Everything within the cone that is not magically invisible or on another plane of existence can be smelled, heard, felt, and seen (including the x-ray vision) by the caster with the same heightened sensitivities as described earlier. This effect lasts for 1d6+CL rounds and does not move if the caster moves. After this effect has expired, the caster’s senses “step down” to the effects described in (28-29) for 1d4 hours. Note that should the judge elect to show the player a map outlay of what is seen, he should only allow the player to see the map for the allotted number of rounds in real time, though the judge may “stop time” (covering up up the map in the meantime) to answer questions that would more or less instantaneously occur in the character’s mind, but take more real time to verbally express. The caster’s “perception” will manifest as a tiny flying saucer that rises out of the caster’s head, making a slight buzzing and humming sound as it ascends.

32+                  As (30-31), but the aerial view of perception lasts for 1d6+CL turns of real time, moves with the caster, and extends to 500’ in radius.

Eye of Ackackerack

Level: 2 (Supreme Brainskull Commander)    Range: Varies              Duration: Varies          Casting time: 1 round             Save: Varies, (when appropriate) see below.

General:                      The caster invokes the ancient Brainskull power of the mystical Eye of Ackackerack, an ancestor held as a near deity who ruled at the whim of whatever he felt like doing at the time. His chaotic whims are still manifest through this capricious invocation.

Manifestation:             Roll 1d4: (1) The caster’s forehead sprays blood as a third eye erupts, then shoots kaleidoscope patterns out in a cone before the caster, (2) The caster’s eyes become whirling black and white spirals, sparks shoot out of his tear ducts, (3) A glowing eye appears in the palm of each of the caster’s hands, (4) 1d30 eyes sprout all over the caster’s body. As a result, he gains +1 to initiative rolls next round.

1                                  Lost, failure, and patron taint.

2-11                             Lost, failure.

12-13                           Failure, but spell is not lost.

14-15                           For 2d8+CL rounds, all enemies within 30’ must make a DC15 Will save at -1 or be mesmerized. Those mesmerized are held immobile and cannot take any action until the spell expires or the target is attacked or physically traumatized. This trauma must entail at least 1 HP of damage to shock the target out of their mesmerized state.

16-19                           All enemies within 30’ must make a Will save versus spell check DC or fall asleep for 1d4 hours. Targets can be awakened by normal means using one action.

20-21                           All enemies within 60’ must make a DC 15 Will save or become deaf and blind for 1d4 hours.

22-25                           A green cloud of gas emanates from the caster’s magic eye(s) and extends into a rough sphere about 60’ in diameter. All enemies caught in the sphere are deprived of oxygen as a more nitrogen-rich atmosphere takes over. Targets must make a DC 17 Fortitude save or pass out for 1d10 minutes. For the first round spent in the cloud, targets take 1d3 of damage, then move up the dice chain each round, suffering suffocation damage: 1d4 in round 2, 1d5 in round 3, 1d6 in round 4, 1d7 in round 5, 1d8 in round 6, 1d10 in round 7, etc. Those in the cloud may be removed by others who enter the cloud, but these are also subject to its effects. Those who make their save are at half movement and unable to act except to drag another to safety. Anyone spending three cumulative rounds in the cloud, regardless of whether or not they made their save, suffer a permanent loss of 1 point of Intelligence. This is cumulative, with the loss applied every 3 consecutive rounds.

26-29                           A reverse-gravity wave emanates out in a 60’ diameter circle from the caster’s magic eye(s), affecting the caster’s enemies. This reversal flicks from one pole to another each round. Enemies must make an Agility save versus spell check DC or suffer 1d6 damage. If a critical success (natural 20) is indicated, the enemy does not move from that plane further (i.e., he is “stuck” on that surface) until the spell expires. This spell lasts for 2d12 turns.

30-31                           A meteor shoots out of (one of) the caster’s magical eye(s), with a range up to 100’. It unerringly hits its target, causing 2d6 of damage, then explodes, causing a further 6d6 of damage to all persons within 30’ of the target unless an Agility save versus the spell check result is made. If the save is successful, damage is halved. All are affected, friend or enemy.

32-33                           A dark nebula, complete with flickering stars, ebbs out of the caster’s magic eye(s) at a rate of 10’/round, out to a maximum of 60’ from the caster. Those enemies touched by the nebula are drained of 1d8 Hit Points and 1 point of Strength each. These hit points are added as a buffer to those of the caster and any damage taken by the caster is first applied to these “stolen” hit points. The caster also gains all the strength points and adds them to his own strength. This effect lasts for 1 full day. Though the strength fades after one day, the stolen hit points do not. They remain with the caster until “used up,” at which point the caster is “back down” to his normal maximum hit points

34+                              All enemies of the caster within 100’ are impregnated with a Brainskull egg. Each round, those impregnated must make a DC 15 Fortitude save or the egg hatches, killing the host instantly and allowing the emergence of a fully-formed, fully-equipped Brainskull Minion. If the save is successful for three rounds in a row, the egg has been aborted by the host body immune system. Even then, the host will suffer 1d6 points of damage per round. If the host dies before the egg hatches, the egg also dies. Hatched Brainskull Minions follow the caster until either he or they die. They remain wholly loyal to his command, even to the point of suicidal acts, if the caster so orders. Brainskull Minions (Init +0; Atk Death Ray Rifle +0 missile (3d6); AC 17; HD 1d8+2; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SV Fort +0, Ref +0, Will +0, AL C).

Note:   The caster may defer down to any lower result on the chart, if he so chooses.

                                                 Chariots of the Gods

   Level: 3 (Supreme Brainskull Commander)  Range: Varies  Duration: Varies Casting
time: 1 round Save: None

General:                       Supreme Brainskull Commander’s reach into space is grand. In order to strengthen his influence, he may see fit to loan technology to his followers in order to allow them transport and protection from enemies and the dangers of space (as well as terrestrial) travel.
Manifestation:             Roll 1d4: (1) A mist arises behind the                                           caster, then coalesces into massive black                                       and purple scintillating beetle wings, (2)                                       The caster’s hair and robes are cast back,                                     as if the caster is travelling at breakneck                                       speed, (3) The caster’s form “jumps”                                           with every movement, as if he was under                                     a strobe light. (4) A cloud of tiny flying                                       saucers buzz around the caster’s head for                                     the full duration of the spell.
1                                  Lost, failure, and patron taint.

2-11                             Lost, failure.

12-15                           Failure, but spell is not lost

16-17                           In a flash of lightning, a giant beetle with an iron and leather saddle appears. The caster is immediately in the saddle and in control of the creature at the end of the casting time. The creature will move in response to the caster’s will, but will attack enemies independently. Giant Beetle (Init +1; Atk: Bite +2 melee (3d6); Stomp +2 melee (1d6); AC 18; HD 4d10; MV 40’; Act 1d20; 1d16; SV Fort +6, Ref +2, Will +2, AL N)

18-21                           In a flash of lightning, the caster and up to 2 companions are transported into a floating chariot pulled by 2 Giant Beetles. The chariot floats 20’ above the ground and is attached to the bettles by lassos that glow with an orange light. The chariot gives +1 to the AC of each person in it and is itself AC 17, with 75 structural hit points. The Giant Beetles can simultaneously pull the chariot and attack enemies. Giant Beetle (Init +1; Atk: Bite +2 melee (3d6); Stomp +2 melee (1d6); AC 18; HD 4d10; MV 40’; Act 1d20; 1d16; SV Fort +6, Ref +2, Will +2, AL N). The chariot and Giant Beetles remain for 1d8+CL rounds, at which point the caster and companions are dismounted and the chariot and beetles are lifted into the sky along a blue column of light. If killed (or destroyed, in the case of the chariot), they disintegrate into a cloud of nanites that flies off into space.

22-23                           A pterodactyl with a silk and brass saddle appears. The caster is immediately in the saddle and in control of the creature at the end of casting time. The creature will move in response to the caster’s will, but will attack enemies independently. Pterodactyl (Init +2; Atk Bite +3 melee (4d6); claw +3 melee (3d6); AC 17; HD 6d10; MV 70’ flying; ACT 1d20, 2d16; SV Fort +4, Ref +4, Will +2, AL N). The pterodactyl remains for 1d10+CL rounds, at which point the caster is dismounted and the pterodactyl flies up along a blue column of light. If killed, it disintegrates into a cloud of nanites that flies off into space.

24-26                           A magic carpet appears under the caster and up to 2 companions. The carpet flies at 100’ and remains for 1d4 hours, after which the occupants are landed savely and the carpet unravels and vanishes. While on the carpet, all riders gain +2 to AC due to the incredible maneuverability of the carpet.

27-31                           The caster and up to 3 companions materialize in the driver’s seat of a bubble car, a small flying machine with enclosed glass, full internal environmental controls, whatever music the caster desires, and a bottle of fresh water. The vehicle requires little concentration to control, freeing the caster up for other activities. This vehicle can be submerged under thousands of feet of water or travel into the vacuum of space with no discomfort to the caster. Furthermore, the car imparts +7 to all passengers’ AC (in relation to all enemies outside the car), has 200 hit points of structural integrity, and travels at 120’. It remains for 1d6 hours, after which it lands on the nearest safe spot and disintegrates into a cloud of nanites, which flies off into space.

32-33                           The caster and up to five companions are transported into a flying saucer, 40’ in diameter, topped by a see-through bubble that allows 360-degree sight to the world above or parallel to the edge of the ship’s disk. It has full internal environmental controls (-200F to 200F), whatever music the caster desires, a cooler filled with 20 water bottles, a first-aid-kit (apply to heal 1d4 damage), and the ability to set course automatically for any point within visual sight (magically-enhanced sight can extend the range as it only depends on what the caster can see). The vehicle requires little concentration to control, freeing the caster up for other activities. This vehicle can be submerged under thousands of feet of water or travel into the vacuum of space with no discomfort to the caster. Furthermore, the saucer imparts +10 to all passengers’ AC (in relation to all enemies outside the car), has 500 hit points of structural integrity, and travels at 200’. It remains for 1d8 hours, after which it lands on the nearest safe spot and disintegrates into a cloud of nanites, which flies off into space.

34-35                           The caster and up to eight companions are transported into a flying saucer, 60’ in diameter. This is a completely enclosed metal disc, though the crew can see outside by means of one-way viewports that allow sight in any direction. Magnification can bring objects into view from hundreds of miles away. It has full internal environmental controls (-300F to 300F), whatever music the caster desires, a fresh water dispenser with an infinite water supply, 3 first-aid-kits (apply to heal 1d4 damage), and the ability to set course automatically for any point up to 10,000 miles away. The vehicle requires little concentration to control, freeing the caster up for other activities. This vehicle can withstand any environment short of plunging into a sun with no discomfort to the caster. It is impermeable to all kinetic weapons, but may be subject to beam weapons. It has 800 hit points of structural integrity, and travels at 500’. It remains for one full day, after which it lands on the nearest safe spot and disintegrates into a cloud of nanites, which flies off into space.

36+                             The caster and up to 500 companions are transported to a flying saucer mothership measuring 1000’ in diameter. All the amenities and comforts previously mentioned are included, but on a larger scale. The mothership contains 10 large flying saucers and 100 bubble cars in its hold. It also contains 500 vacuum suits, which allow an individual to survive in the vacuum of space for up to one full day. The mothership can travel at 98% the speed of light and is impervious to any outside attack or environment short of a black hole. It remains for 1d3 days, after which it lands and disintegrates into a cloud of nanites, which flies off into space.

[For another patron of my creation, see The Dimensional Dogs]

PS: Apologies for the super-crappy formatting. Definitely not my strength, as you can see . . . urgh.

Monday, December 28, 2015

After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC

After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BCAfter the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC by Steven Mithen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Years ago, as an undergraduate at BYU, I was a teaching assistant to Dr. Dale Berge for a semester. Much of my time was spent boiling down textbooks into study notes for students, like an alchemist trying to extract gold from lead. It was a lot like real work. For the life of me, I can't recall the names of the textbooks (that may be a subconsious effort to forget the difficulty of the work), but they were broad world surveys of archaeology that were state-of-the-art at the time (the mid-'90s). I pored over thousands of pages, taking notes and distilling the information down into outline form for an upcoming survey class that Dr. Berge was teaching. To say I learned a lot is an understatement - I was only an anthropology minor, so I didn't have the breadth of knowledge that some of the other T.A.s had. But I knew more than the students in the classes for whom I was preparing the study outlines, so there was that, I suppose.

Previous to that time, I had read Alexander Marshack's outstanding The Roots of Civilization: The Cognitive Beginning of Man's First Art, Symbol and Notation, which covers a time frame that mostly preceded those covered in Mithen's After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC, though there may be some overlap. Come to think of it, my reading of Marshack's book probably led me to want to minor in Anthropology. That book had a powerful effect on me, thrusting me back into prehistory, while fostering in me an appreciation for the human subjects of all this cool, brain-tickling research.

During the winter break following my T.A. stint with Dr. Berge, I read Marija Gimbutas' Language of the Goddess: Unearthing the Hidden Symbols of Western Civilization, which covers a time period primarily after that covered by Mithen.

So when I first heard of this book, I thought it might be a good survey for filling in those "gap years" between the years covered by Marshack and Gimbutas.

Thankfully, I was right. This is an excellent survey, with a couple of weaknesses. Let me tell you why.

First of all, scope. Mithen does an outstanding job of covering the large-scale geological and atmospheric changes that took place over this rather dynamic, often turbulent, time in the Earth's history. After a long ice age, the weather warmed for a time, then dipped back into a short, but intense, ice age, then gradually warmed up again, this time with further reaching, more long-lasting effects that we see even to this day.

But Mithen isn't content with just painting a large-scale canvas. In order to bring us back down to human scale, he employs two characters with the same name: John Lubbock. The first John Lubbock was a Victorian archaeologist who brought some needed scientific rigor to the archaeological field. The second John Lubbock is a fictional character from our era who travels back in time to observe conditions and, more importantly, to observe the everyday doings of everyday people in the many different societies he visits. Their views are often contrasted to show the advances that archaeologists have made since the early days of archaeology as a science. Often, he does so step by step, showing the progression that has been made over time with new discoveries.

Along the way, as Mithen goes from era to era (from 20,000 to 5000 BC) and continent to continent (covering everything except Antarctica, much to my relief), he shows the "how" of archaeology and much of why certain methods were used, how some earlier (Victorian) assumptions cast a false light on the past, and who were the key figures in gaining said insights.

Sometimes, the simple jettisoning of preconceived notions of what one thinks they ought to find gives a clearer picture of what actually happened. This is the case with the discoveries at Oleneostrovski Mogilnik (Deer Island), where initial data, collected by Soviet archaeologists, was interpreted through the filter of (incorrect) Marxist ideas of prehistoric social structure. Later, when the same data was reinterpreted, a completely different picture of the ancient activities at that site emerged. At other times, the old notion of "the simplest explanation must be the best explanation" had to be abandoned, as happened at Creswell Crags, where earlier archaeologists had taken it for granted that remains found at the same stratum must have been collected there at the same time. Erosion hadn't figured into their equation. As later digs revealed, a single layer of sediment does not necessarily contain items of a single provenance.

Mithen excels at exposing the reader to a number of different archaeological methodologies. In 45 pages, he covers the basic science behind, and provides examples of the use of archeo-zoology, historical genetics, and historical linguistics in reconstructing the past. His presentation of these and many other methods of delving into prehistory are thorough, catching the subtleties of each, without dragging the reader down with too much detail.

The big picture never escapes Mithen, and he does well to present several sides of some controversial issues. For instance, on the question of the disappearance of megafauna such as the mastadon from North America, and whether the cause of their extinction was disease or over-hunting, his answer is . . . neither . . . and both. Mithen argues that the climactic change that occured with the warming of the Earth after the last ice age forced such animals into tight niches that could not sustain them, making them easy prey for hunters and particularly susceptible to disease. He cites several different pieces of evidence for this, not least of which is the very limited use of such animals in ancient North Americans' diets, as evidenced by the multitude of rabbit and fowl bones that show cut marks from butchering, versus the very small number of such bones coming from megafauna. Yes, there is evidence that the use of the clovis point might have been necessary to take down bigger game (though some think that the clovis point was all for show and trade, and not for use as a real weapon) and there is evidence for disease and famine (signs of starvation in megafaunal bones), but his argument, that the changes in habitat precipitated megafaunal populations, allowing them to be in a position to be pushed "over the edge," seems convincing.

So this is the best book on prehistory ever, right? Not so fast. We wouldn't be following Mithen's lead if we just bought this hook, line, and sinker, now would we? After all, Mithen makes it obvious that his "newer" John Lubbock sections are fictional, though they derive from suppositions arising out of the archaeological record. But what if the suppositions are wrong, or at least suspicious?

As an example, Mithen gives a fictional account of John Lubbock's visit to Mesopotamia, particularly the site at Zawi Chemi Shanidar, some time between 11,000 and 9000 BC. Here Lubbock witnesses the ritualized killing of baby goats by people dressed up in costumes that were partially constructed from vulture and eagle wings. It's great fiction: the costumed participants circle a campfire where the goats have been gathered to the rhythmic beating of a skin drum. The goats shiver with fear, then, at the climax of the ritual, the "vultures and eagles" swoop down and wring the goat's next, falling all about, spent from the orgiastic energy of the ritual.

Except it didn't happen. "Maybe it did," you say. I say "prove it".

Mithen's "proof" is that several vulture and eagle wings were buried along with several young goat skulls near a fire. But who's to say that the birds of prey weren't eaten and the dinner guests just didn't like wings? Perhaps the wings were removed for other reasons, as trophies, like a deer head in a man-cave today. And what of the goats? They found skulls, but no clear evidence that they were strangled. That's pure supposition. It's fiction. It makes a great story. But it's just that: a story that Mithen made up. Even he admits, several times throughout the book, that when archaeologists can't find a good reason for some of the strangeness they uncover, the default argument is that the weird assemblages are a result of ritual. It's easy to cite modern instances where religious ritual might have been assumed from the leftover trash and detritus of some very non-religious, non-ritualistic activities. Sometimes, these sorts of things are even faked. Such a thing happened not two miles from where I live.

But let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Mithen's After the Ice is as good as it gets, so far as archaeological writing is concerned. If you need evidence of that, just look up a few of the books he references - b-o-r-i-n-g. And his science, for the most part, is sound. And if you, like me, had not read a survey of archaeological discoveries for over twenty years, I invite you to delve into Mithen's book. Because the further we move into the future, the more we know about the past.

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

What's in the Quay's Wunderkammer?

I recently picked up The Brothers Quay Collection on DVD. This led to some direct observation and indirect contemplation of what's in the Quay's Wunderkammer. Suitable for use in your RPG du jour.

If you want to just jump straight into the action, click here to generate a popup randomly selected from the results in the table below Thanks to The Seventh Order of the Random Generator for supplying the technology.

What’s in the Quay’s Wunderkammer?

1.         A smaller Wunderkammer, containing another, smaller Wunderkammer, and another, and another, and another . . .

2.         1d12 black, ball-headed straight pins, magnetic.

3.         A wooden hand.

4.         A tarantula body.

5.         Silver forceps.

6.         A lobotomized doll’s head, with lobotomizing tools still inserted in the nostrils.

7.         Ship-in-a-bottle, cobwebbed.

8.         1d4 alabaster eggs.

9.         “Magic” lantern with 1d4 plates showing scenes from hell. Real scenes.

10.       A crown made of books, mostly esoteric texts.

11.       A tri-corn paper hat, shiny red.

12.       A tiny loom with spider-silk tapestry.

13.       Doll-sized divining rod. It works.

14.       A platinum fork.

15.       A never-melting ice cube. It can be crushed, but never melted.

16.       A tiny leather pouch containing a live cricket. The cricket never dies. Ever.

17.       A flapping bird wing. No bird is attached.

18.       A wig made of flies’ hairs.

19.       A pearl through which one sees oneself hanging from a gibbet.

20.       A pair of granite scissors.

21.       A tiny feather, always “on the wind”.

22.       A doll’s arm reaching out from a tiny, interdimensional portal. It’s hand is grabby.

23.       A golden silk cocoon.

24.       A model of the Black Forest, made from dandelion seeds.

25.       A button that, when pushed, rings alarm bells from nowhere.

26.       Metal-mesh goggles.

27.       A wooden esophagus.

28.       A box of cigars from the future.

29.       A matchbox painting of a headless specter.

30.       A candle whose flame burns black.

31        A pocket watch that refuses to keep correct time.

32.       A cymbal-crashing monkey doll that only plays when it wants to – which is always the worst possible time.

33.       A hand mirror that temporarily (1d4 rounds) blinds anyone who holds it and looks into it. Only works on the one holding it.

34.       A demon-possessed maggot.

35.       A dust mote that doubles its size for every turn it is outside of the cabinet for as long as it is outside the cabinet. At a certain point, it can’t be swept back in . . .

36.       A dandelion that reforms no matter what you do to or with the seeds.

37.       A bag containing the monotonous screeching of violins.

38.       A swarm of porcelain dolls that destroy your clothes and re-tailor your wardrobe.

39.       A high-heeled stiletto doll shoe, forged from a rusty screw.

40.       A screw that, once spun, never stops spinning.

41.       A quivering piece of meat. It still quivers.

42.       A convulsing glass eye.

43.       A twitching insect antenna.

44.       A vibrating barcode that never quite comes into focus: 8033 30 25 86.

45.       A thread that, when brought within 10’ of a musical instrument that is being played, instantly throws the instrument out of tune.

46.       A ballet-dancing, calligraphy-swirl-drawing, animated drafter’s compass.

47.       A leather ball that only bounces up stairs.

48.       A throw-bolt that doesn’t want to stay thrown. It can be forced, however.

49.       A swatch of striped cloth whose stripes alternately lighten and darken in varying shades of gray.

50.       A sewing needle that, when floated in mercury, always points to the position of the sun in the sky, even when the sun is not visible with the naked eye.

51.       An ape-headed baby doll.

52.       Matchbox portrait of a mouse in a monocle and top hat.

53.       A tiny electric fan that constantly blows, sans electricity.

54.       A yo-yo that crawls up and down the string 100 times per second, regardless of what the wielder docs. Stopping it requires a difficult dexterity/agility save, which can be attempted every round.

55.       A tiny magnet, ½ cm square, that attracts all metal unseen shavings within 50’, though it cannot be attached to a piece of metal larger than a shaving.

56.       A straightedge razor that can’t be handled without the handler being cut.

57.       A shadowbox showing a paradise, elsewhere. It is real, but you know you’ll never go there. You can’t. It’s not for you.

58.       A dollhouse ladder that only leans against dying trees in autumn.

59.       A clown-marionette’s red nose.

60.       A six-pointed-star-shaped thimble filled with pure water. It is far deeper than the bottom of the thimble. Miles deep, in fact. The water cannot be tipped out, as the thimble can not be tipped over, but the water can be sipped.

61.       A tiny music box that, when opened, causes one finger of every hearer (within 20’) to uncontrollably twitch. This can cause havoc for spellcasters or weapon wielders.

62.       A sinister porcelain doll face that causes nightmares to all who see it.

63.       A rose that, if cut, causes the color to fade from the world, thrusting all into black and white.

64.       A strip of cloth that becomes hopelessly entangled in the fingers of anyone who touches it. It must be transferred to another person to become disentangled from oneself.

65.       An ointment that, when applied to any piece of wood, causes sharp thorns to grow on the wood.

66.       A metal comb which, if used to comb one’s hair, causes flowers to spring forth. They are instantly woven into the hair.
67.       A marionette wig made of hedgehog quills.

68.       An inside-out globe of the known world.

69.       A small teapot, 1” high, 1” wide, stretched to 12” long.

70.       Tiny mechanical hounds that chase, kill, and eat a mechanical stag. No trace of the stag remains after the scene has played out.

71.       A bubble, floating on a teacup half-full of urine, which cannot be popped.

72.       Spectacles that cause anything in the yellow spectrum to appear as a star-filled night sky.

73.       Breathing apparatus that causes underwater visions of cyclopean ruins of non-Euclidean architecture.

74.       Crystal marble that shows visions of a man with a tiny mustache, wearing a brown coat. He screams in an unknown tongue and raises his hand in the air a lot. Unseen crowds cheer and chant.

75.       An egg that explodes when touched by flesh, then reforms a few seconds later, the pieces of shell and yolk flying back to the original location to form, again, an unbroken egg.

76.       A 1” cube of metal that smells of pineapple and lavender. If put in the mouth, it tastes like pineapple and lavender. It never loses its flavor.

77.       A receipt, written by a marionette carver. If read, the reader is mesmerized and unable to act for 1d4 turns.

78.       A 5’ long string which, if attached to the neck of another person, gives the holder complete control over the other person’s physical actions. It will stay attached for 1d3 rounds. A successful “hit” must be made on the target.

79.       A tiny cone which, if one speaks into it, his voice emits from the farthest corner of the room (or the nearest room if one is outdoors) for one round. Usable only at night and only once per night.

80.       A piano tuner which, if struck at high noon or midnight, causes earth tremors to a radius of 100’.

81.       A crack in the wood of the Wunderkammer shines with a searing light. Flesh that touches the crack is blistered and burned. Other materials that touch it are charred or ignite, if inflammable. Once touched, it seals up, blinking out of existence.

82.       A miniature jade elephant. If touched, it walks with an un-natural jerking motion. It stops when not being touched.

83.       A stuffed cardinal, whose red color drains from it like blood when it is placed in sunlight, leaving it pure white. The pool of red evaporates quickly. When put back into darkness, it flushes read again.

84.       A glass face-shield that, when looked through, causes the wearer to see any held object at all angles at once. This causes nausea, vomiting, and a splitting headache that lasts for hours.

85.       A key that, when turned in the air (as if one is unlocking a door), makes a clicking sound, followed by the sound of a door creaking open. Nearby observers and the key turner are filled with a sickening sense of unease brought on by an unseen presence or force.

86.       A paper man, with features inked in, that dances in the three dimensional world on the 29th of July.

87.       A metal hear, upon which is painted two large eyes. If picked up, a tear falls from one of the eyes and the holder is reminded of a time of extreme sadness from their past.

88.       A stuffed toy bunny whose ears flop rapidly back and forth if its feet are squeezed.

89.       A beautiful diamond ring. Anyone reaching for the ring will find their fingers and hand convulsing uncontrollably until they pull back the hand. Any other body part directed toward the ring also convulses uncontrollably, only ceasing when the offending member is withdrawn.

90.       A richly-adorned, severed hand in a non-descript box. If taken out of the box, it will “run” around like a spider, pinching, poking, and scratching to defend itself until stuffed back into the box.

91.       A stuffed hummingbird whose proboscis is a hollow needle that will inject a powerful narcotic if it pierces skin.

92.       A glass tumbler that will not stay upright, but insists on rolling around on its side . . . tumbling . . .

93.       A decrepit wooden box. When one puts his ear to it, he can hear the distant rumble of thunder.

94.       A sharpened stick, with rough bark on the shaft. If dipped in water, one may write with it as a quill or pencil. The lines are the color of yew leaves in spring.

95.       A tiny window in a tiny frame, set in the body of the Wunderkammer. If one looks inside, he sees a vast room, with furniture the size of castles.

96.       A stag horn that writhes when touched.

97.       A tiny wire strung across a U-shaped piece of brass. If plucked, it sings with the high soprano voice of a well-trained singer, though the song is haunting and highly disturbing. Shrieks can be heard in the distance.

98.       A gaunt marionette, 6” tall. He is well-dressed, but sickly. If his mouth is forced open, it will resist, then give way, letting out an explosive organ symphony of incredible volume until forced shut again. This it will also resist.

99.       A match, with the head of a blackened skull, that is always aflame and cannot be put out, but which never consumes the matchstick.

100.     A porcelain baby doll head whose eyes cast light like bullseye lanterns. The light never goes out, but the eyes can be stoppered shut with cloth.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica

Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern EsotericaNomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica by Erik Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is another case of a beautifully unclassifiable book; baffling to marketers and bookstore shelvers, a marvelous revelation to those of us whose minds work like an ever-evolving kaleidoscope of ecletctic quirkiness. It would be shameful to pigeon-hole Davis' essays into a bucket or even to imply that each has a definite "subject". That's not to say that they are incoherent, no, quite the contrary! They are just . . . shifty . . . and very, very interesting. Erik Davis' interests are, as the title implies, esoteric. The essays in this volume are adventures in UFOlogy, psychoactive drug use, spiritual deep-dives, strange religions, philosophical explorations, anthropological pieces about Trekkies and Cthulhu-cults, modern poetry, Philip K. Dick, and Gak - yes, the slime toy Gak. If this review seems like an incoherent rambling, well, that's probably a fair assessment. I can't hope to plumb the depths of Davis' thoughts, I can only offer a topographical map of his insights at their highest (and lowest) points. That said, let's adventure!

The volume begins with a confessional: "Teenage Head: Confessions of a High School Stoner". I was immediately thrust under the hypnotic influence of Davis' thoughts. Davis, like myself, was a child of the '80s, although he was a couple of years older than me. Still, we shared a lot of the same experiences, exploring the psychotropic landscape. In his words:

Pot led me into a tangible world of bubbling micro-perceptions, haunted winds, and hilarious malformations of the data-stream. But pot also gave me something that has stuck with me far longer than the urge to bake my brain: a love of slippage, founded in the realization that altering perception alters the claims reality makes on you. The various social agendas of parents, teachers, and the ghost of God could be sidestepped - not only by sullen monosyllables and the worship of unwholesome heavy-metal guitarists but by tinkering with consciousness itself. What greater rebellion than rewiring one's experience of the world?

And I'll echo his sentiments. Though I haven't smoked weed for, let's see, 28 years now (haven't drunk alcohol since then, either), I still hold that "love of slippage". It's not played out in drug use, but in other, far less dangerous ways: My bizzare sense of humor; love of art in a variety of forms; love of heavy metal, punk, trippy electronic, and modern classical music; the insatiable addiction to tabletop roleplaying games; a deep spirituality; existential philosophy; dark chocolate (milk chocolate is for "normals"); ginger beer that will clear your sinuses; the desire to take long, meaningless (or is it meaningful?) walks just to be alone with my thoughts, cleanse my soul, and give me perspective; bizarre, off-kilter reading material; and, of course, my writing, which I am told is rather strange, at times. All of these, pretty much all the non-people that I love and live for, are a manifestation of that same drive that steered me toward pot (etc. . . .) back in the day. The fact is, I have little use for "normal," except that it keeps me employed and that I love my relatively normal wife. And, yes, she reminds me, often, that I am weird. I wouldn't have it any other way. Our kids swing wildly between normal and weird. People can't quite figure our family out, but society largely seems to like us, so long as they know that our strangeness is all played out with good intent.

But I digress . . . and I'm just blathering on about myself . . . and being indulgent . . .

Which are all things that Davis excels at! Only he's better at it than I am.

Whether it's Burmese Ladyboy-possession cults or Klingon neopagan religion or Gak, Davis is never at a loss for words. He is an able Virgil to your Dante-brain, though you might be confused, from time-to-time, as to which level of hell or heaven you are on, exactly. Somehow, it all makes sense . . . mostly. And Davis' obvious penchant for the study of religious phenomena gives him a voice of authority on such matters. You feel as if you can trust his word throughout, though you might not completely understand everything he throws at you.

For instance, "Snakes and Ladders" is an attempted reconciliation of early Christian Gnosticism ("floating," as it were - my word, not his - in the ethereal realms of the spirit) with pagan nature-religions (grounded in the Earth) through Manichaeism, while co-opting some pieces of mainstream Buddhism along the way. This is not light reading. And while I have enough of a background in religious studies to "get" the high points, some of the connections were lost on me. But though I couldn't explain all the details, I felt that his argument was succesful enough for me, the ignorant layman, to say that he might just have something there. Something I don't entirely understand, but something that seems to be a passable argument. Unfortunately, I don't have the time, and the library doesn't have the institutional patience, to allow me a thorough examination of all the fine points. I'll let professors of religion argue those out. That's what they get paid for, right?

On the other hand, I found "The Paisley Gate" quite open for my examination. It is an interesting song with converging and diverging lines split (and conjoined) along the lines of drug-fueled psychedelic trips and the cosmic enlightenment of tantric Buddhism. The essay is a liminal Mandelbrot Set of simultaneously conflicting and complimentary warpings of perception. My brother is a practicing tantric Buddhist, so I know as much as the uninitiated are allowed to know, and those drug-fueled trips . . . well, I've known that territory . . . very well. Davis does an excellent job of adjusting scope in and out so that the reader can see where lines cross and where they might seem to cross, but don't quite do so.

"Diamond Solitaire" was a piece that really touched me, since I have had several "Diamond Solitaire" experiences myself - brushes with the cosmic whole (not to sound too much like a hippie or new-age crystal-dolphin lover - apologies if you are either) that warp perception (or, if you will, clarify perception) suddenly, without warning, and without the kick-start of psychedelic drugs. These revelations have been some deeply meaningful experiences for me, experiences that I don't really share much because they are, to me, very sacred. It felt good to read about Davis' experience, another shared view on life and our place in the greater whole of the universe.

Davis does well to not just focus on such illuminating experiences. He is also in touch with the banal. Who can go on for four solid pages about the slime toy, Gak, and hold, nay compel the reader's attention, even making his observations of the toy intellectually stimulating? Davis can!

He can also (and did) deliver the best synthesis of of Lovecraft's influence and the confluence of "chaos magic" I have ever read in "Calling Cthulhu". In "Saint Phil," he crafts a nicely written essay about the crazed genius science fiction writer and the fuzzy border between reality, imagination, and insanity. Then, while Davis never claims to crack the code of The Matrix in his essay "Matrixter," his peek behind the curtain of technology (by way of lucid dreaming!) reveals that the Wachowski brothers may have inadvertently cracked the tinted window of reality and exposed us all to the disturbing question: "What is control"? As any great essayist will do, he leaves the answer up to us.

Not every essay was as mindblowing as the ones I've outlined above, but most of them were. If you're blown away by one of his essays, chances are you'll be blown away by at least a couple more. I, for one, will be seeking out more of his work. Feel free to tag along. We've got a lot to talk about . . .

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