The Paranet Papers, Part 3 (The Neverglades)

The third chapter describes a small town of Okeeokalee Bay, Florida, with something strange in the water causing about a third of population to have various minor and major magical powers. As a consequence, everyone here knows about the supernatural and accepts it as a part of life because this book hates me.However, my issues with the concept of secrecy aside, I’m inclined to like the setting because it’s a small town built around a tourist trap with weirdness abound. So, you know…

Bill is actually a good candidate for the role of subHarry. In absence of any other options, I’ll go with him fucking around Harry’s mind.

And yeah, I know that a small town with big secrets is an older trope than either DF or GF, I still can hope.

Well, let’s see how much my hopes are misplaced.

I wasn’t joking about “something in the water.” That something is the Fount, a source of the Fountain of Youth legend. Long story short, there is a wandering place manifesting around the swamp and the rivers that gives water healing properties and saturates the area with magical power, which causes animals to grow big, allows spirits to freely pass into the mortal world and possess said animals, makes people here live longer and heal faster and gives them magical powers.

So, if the Las Vegas chapter introduced X-Men into DF, this one goes for old school radiation. I would say it’s less comic-y, though, since “a strange place of power where mysterious blessings could be obtained” does have mythological basis.

Anyway, aside from justifying the abundance of magic around, the concept has an interesting implication:

“The Fount itself is…well, we’re not quite sure what it is. The prevailing theory (read: what Miss Lizzy says) is that it’s some sort of conduit to a world full of vital energy, whatever that means. That’s what gives the Fount’s water its healing properties.”


Billy: Based on stuff that comes later, my best guess is that he’s talking about Summer here.


“Our proximity to the Fount touches every one of us. The way I understand it, we live a bit longer  than most outsiders, get sick less often, heal from our hurts faster and more completely.”


Billy: I think it’s fair to give Wizard’s Constitution to all the Bayfolk to simulate the effects of the Fount on their health.

Aha! So that’s what’s going on with the whole thing about wizards living longer and healing from any injury! They just have a deal with the Summer Court.

Since the Summer energies bleeding into the mortal world can produce such an effect, it stands to reason that a similar power can be found in Summer territories proper (or at least in a specific place within Summer connected to the Fount), by traveling there through Nevernever.

Now, normally, eating fae food is a Bad Thing: either you wouldn’t be able to come back, you’d lose track of time and dance with them for a hundred years or your mind would be otherwise altered. But it’s wizards we’re talking about, they can probably neutralize the undesirable side-effects.

(Alternatively, maybe drinking fae Kool-Aid is what has infected them with their apparent sociopathy. Would explain Harry, too, he does seem to live inside a narrative of his own making only loosely connected to reality.)

Now, the problem with that idea is that you need to drink local water on regular basis to get the benefits, and we hear nothing from Harry about any special wizard drinks. However, it’s possible that the Fount is heavily diluted, and the real thing carries all the benefits in one drink, permanently. In this case, most wizards don’t really need to know about the secret. Just have an initiation ritual of some sort where they drink Summer juice, among doing other things.

The White Council even has a reason to keep it secret from their own members, since they’re officially courting Winter and would prefer Mab not to know they’re in cahoots with her rivals as well.

Alternatively, that being fairies we’re talking about, they may be slipping the elixir of youth into wizards’ drinks without their knowledge (either once or over the course of wizards’ whole lives, though the latter is not plausible with powerful wizards, unless Summer Queen does it personally) because they’re bound by some ancient pact to provide it. They don’t talk about it because the pact may obligate them to do other things for wizards, but only when actively invoked. If the knowledge of it was lost to centuries, it’s easy to see why fairies wouldn’t want it to resurface.

It’s also possible that Sidhe have the power to grant Wizard’s Constitution directly*, though in this case either each wizard must be brought before a fairy to perform a ritual, or some powerful sympathetic link must be provided, the latter not boding well for wizards since nasty things could be done with it. Though it does have a mythological flare to it.

*It’s actually consistent with the updated transformation rules, of which I’ll talk when we get there.

But back to our setting.

The book proposes a twist for normal process of city creation when you want to create small communities: start with people instead of themes and locations, create a few interesting characters, then figure out what themes they could represent, what locations would reflect them.

Now, it’s an interesting question of priorities, especially since they count PCs among these characters. Personally, I see fictional characters as an extension of conflicts: who they are is not as important as what they do and what’s at stake. As such, starting with themes and threats, figuring out what the game would be about, and then proceeding to create characters that would frame and drive the conflict works pretty well for me.

But that’s when I have a total control over the story. In a TRPG it’s not the case due to players. Players typically know roughly what kind of characters they want to play, and the idea wouldn’t necessary fit in what the GM may think up as the main conflict of the game.

As such, there are two general ways to structure the game: PCs shaped by the plot and plot shaped by PCs.

The former is more or less what I’ve outlined above: figure out what the game would be about, create the local setting, sketch out a few scenes you want to run, etc., then tell about it to the players in broad strokes (or design it with the players to begin with) and have them come up with characters that would fit into the established structure.

The latter is when you allow the players to design their character as they see fit (within some broad boundaries), then figure out what kinds of conflicts would most naturally get these characters involved and design the local setting, antagonists and supporting cast appropriately.

Both ways are valid. Which one you should pick depends on the group dynamic. Some players know what they want out of the game and would actively work to get it, pursuing their characters’ goals, getting into troubles on their own accord, devising cunning plans, etc. If you have enough players like that, it’s generally a good idea to let them do it and simply provide the reaction of the world on their actions rather than designing some intricate intrigue or mystery they would probably ignore in favor of their own ambitions anyway.

Other players are more passive, typically reacting rather than acting and feeling lost when there isn’t any definite pressure on their characters or plot hooks to pursue. It doesn’t make them bad players, mind, they may be able to role-play fine and come up with various clever ideas, they just need a direction. In this case, it’s better to rely more on external factors as well as create the characters after these factors are established, so they can be designed with in-built motivation to do stuff.

So, to summarize:

If you have a lot of active players, just allow them to create their characters, ask them what they want to do in the game, then design the local setting that would be most responsive to them trying to reach their goals. There should be both an opportunity to do so and enough opposition to make it interesting.

If you have passive players, start with the local setting and design various potential conflicts, then describe them to the players and ask if any interest them, then they should create characters that would be naturally involved in these conflicts.

In practice, of course, you’d usually want to go for a hybrid approach: some strong central conflict that would involve the characters no matter what, plus individual stuff for each character, but either way you’re going to lean towards one approach or another.

Now, I would say that no matter the approach, starting with NPCs specifically is not a good idea, since there is a great risk of turning the game into one-GM show if you allow the drama between various NPCs to develop too strongly, and nobody wants that. NPCs are here for PCs to play off of them, not to be the heroes of their own stories. Starting with a villain may work, but you still should be careful to not give the villain too much personal attention. Good backstory, detailed relationships, explored motivation, etc. would make a villain a more well-rounded characters, which is generally good, but what the villain does, how it affects the PCs and setting at large, and why players would care is more important. As such, sometimes villains brushed in broad strokes work better than the ones with complex motivations and conflicted souls, especially in the hands of inexperienced GMs, since the latter take time and effort from players to get to know and appreciate, which may require scenes of monologues and exposition, or, again, NPC show, and fuck it, PCs have their own problems.

Anyway, what it means in the context of setting is that we get a description of specific characters serving as focal points of potential conflicts due to their conflicting agendas, rather than being presented with themes and threats and then introduced to characters embodying them. It makes my job here a bit harder since I can’t outline the big issues of the setting and skip peripheral details now, so I hate it on principle.

So, our first characters is Alec Bones, a suggested PC and a weregator because Florida. He’s a sorta kinda mayor, or he would have been if the town had organized government. Either way, he’s the guy in charge. Aside from his mundane responsibilities, he’s also a Speaker, a person chosen to communicate with Sentinel, who is a magical guardian of the Fount. So sometimes Alec runs errands for Sentinel, and Sentinel rewards him with healing water of the Fount.

In an uncharacteristic moment of clarity, the book notes that the Fount could help many people, and it’s clear Sentinel is here to explain why it doesn’t. While Sentinel is relatively benevolent by magical creatures standards, just guarding the Fount and not actively messing with people, he still prevents all but the Speaker to access it, and gives only so much water.

I’m not entirely sure if that water goes to tourists, who sometimes venture into the town in desperate hope that the legend of the Fountain of Youth is true and would heal their cancer or other illness. The book notes that sometimes people do get healed, but it’s unclear if locals actively give them healing water, or if people just occasionally get better from drinking local water due to it being saturated with the power of the Fount.

What’s clear is that the local community does use healing water for their needs, and not just for the life-threatening stuff:


“I had a broken leg a while back and Doc set the thing and put a poultice on it for me. That patch of goo stank to high Heaven, but I was feeling better in a week and back on my feet in two. I suspect it might’ve had some Fount-water in it; I do get requests from him on occasion.”

Broken leg is a serious business, but still rather short of cancer, I would say, especially taking into account the inherent healing properties of the local population.

Well, at least there’s a room to speculate that the community may help people after all, which is more than can be said about the White Council.

Alec is also in charge of tourist trade, showing them around and making sure they would avoid dangerous places. It doesn’t always work, as not everyone uses his services as a guide, so he’s also in charge of disposing of bodies occasionally, should a panther or some other creature get to them.

Yeah, so, as usual, I’m troubled by the secrecy above common sense. Seems to me stuff like that could be avoided with the help of proper authorities shooting the shit out of mutated animals and the like.

But, OK, small isolated town, people are used to the way they live to the point they don’t accept even positive things from the outside, that’s fair and is actually established to be the case later.

Otherwise, he’s a fine character. His role as a Speaker leads to getting involved in the problems easily, plus, as a leader, he would naturally be the guy people would ask to fix everything.

Our next suggested PC is Elizabeth Matsu Francisco (or Miss Lizzy, as the book calls her because rural town), a local aquamancer with White Council training. She’s supposed to be pretty old, going to college back in 20s, but she looks like that:

And yes, longevity, but there is another character around her age, who looks like an old man, and he also has magic, so it’s not a combination of wizardry with the Fount, either. Plus, DF actually specifically notes that wizardry prolongs your life, not your looks.

Well, anyway, she’s the best magic user around, and also appears to be the most educated person, so she enjoys a broad influence on the local population.

From her, we get some clarification on water magic intended to patch up a plot hole:

“See, magic ain’t that great for controlling water, it turns out. Miss Lizzy says water grounds out magic, like it does electrical current, so there ain’t a lot of magic that can actually affect it. What’s important, she says, is the idea of water more than the actual stuff. I’m not sure I completely understand what she’s talking about, but I’ve seen her conjure small rainstorms and fill buckets and such. The water she conjures is weird, though; it dries up quick, without much of a trace. Funny, that.”


Billy: I think Harry would say that she’s pulling water out of the Nevernever. The way I understand it, it’s real water until there’s no power left in it to keep it together; then it just turns into ectoplasm and evaporates.

Yeah, still have issues with it since no other element works like that. Plus, the Fount water (which Elisabeth actually can manipulate) evidently serves as a conduit for magic, so…

And that’s why it’s important to design your magical system in advance.

Anyway, in addition to being a full-fledged wizard, she also gets terrible visions of the future, though they seem to work out for her. One of them apparently helped her escape the Wardens. It’s not clarified what she did, or if she didn’t do something because she was forewarned by the vision, or what. There are no Lawbreaker powers on her charsheet, so the latter seems more likely, but also disappointing.

Recently, after one of her visions, she, with the help of various people connected to her, started to build a fortified magical bunker capable of accommodating a lot of people. Apparently, she’s a bit apocalyptic. Well, I approve of magical mega-bunkers on general principle, and she actually builds it for other people, not just herself and close relations, so I let it slide that she apparently refuses to explain why it’s necessary (plus, her visions come from Cassandra’s Tears power, which specifically notes that people won’t believe them).

She also pushes for opening the city more to the outside world, one of a very few people to want it. Again, I approve, given they live surrounded by various dangers and help would be welcome. Plus, given that the community is open about the supernatural, to the point the basic information about it is a part of school curriculum, it’s a nice “fuck you” to the general policy of secrecy the rest of DF is so enamored with.

Oh, and she’s apparently in a middle of a love triangle between Swampjack and Withered Jim, about whom I’ll talk a bit later. She has a thing for Swampjack, but he’s very opposed to the idea of opening up the city, so their relationship is rocky at best. Withered Jim has a thing for her, but something unspecified has happened between the three, leaving him, well, withered. There, I disapprove of vagueness. Again, I’m perfectly capable of changing stuff if I want, so may as well say what’s up with them.

Anyway, as you can see, she has a lot of irons on fire, which does create a good potential for involving her in the plot. If none of the conflicts attract her, you can always send a terrible vision her way forcing her to act. The danger here is that the conflict are numerous and not directly connected, so there is a danger of losing focus if you try to incorporate all of them into the game. It would be preferable to focus on one, maybe two, and let the rest be background details.

The next suggested PC is Manny Shilah, a fanboat mailman and the main source of contact with the outside world for the town. He’s a pure mortal, but comes from an old local family, which apparently has a lot of skeletons in their closets, with some family members being warlocks or otherwise involved with the supernatural.

He isn’t, though, which rather limits his potential as a character, especially given that in this setting you can’t even run a scenario about discovering the supernatural or dealing with it by purely mortal means: everyone knows already, and you can always ask your wizard neighbor to help.

Plus, he has some obnoxious character traits:

“Manny’s got a way with the ladies, too. He never sees one more than twice and always tells them that he’s a “confirmed bachelor,” but that don’t stop him from stepping out for the occasional “lovely, lovely evening.” The ladies seem pretty keen on him initially, but I think he maybe doesn’t know how to let them down easily because they tend to be a bit hot and bothered after the fact. Some people (read: Missus Simmons) suspect that Manny may be carrying a torch for someone in secret and either can’t or won’t approach the object of his affections. He doesn’t talk about it to me much, even after all we’ve been through. Can’t say that’s not a little bit frustrating, but I ain’t gonna pressure him.”

So, yeah, fuck him.

The next suggested PC is Betty Mullins, a young changeling sheriff. She has a strong sense of right and wrong, always tries to do the right thing, but isn’t yet experienced, so sometimes gets in over her head. She knows she’s going to make a choice between being a fairy or a pure mortal at some point, which gnaws at her.

She also has a thing for Douglas Van Horne, another suggested PC, who has a thing for an NPC, who doesn’t openly return his affection, but is now confused about his feelings.

Because what this game needs is sloppy teenage make-outs.

Anyway, not much more to say about her. As a character, she has a clear motivation to get involved in various conflicts. The flaw of being inexperienced is often handled badly for female characters, but the town seems to accept her authority, and it seems she does a good job as a sheriff, so I don’t have complaints on that front. Love triangle is really not my cup of tea, and the way it’s set up here, the resolution relies more on whether the players would be comfortable with role-playing a romance between PCs, PC and an NPC or not at all rather than any personality traits involved.

Still, she does have a potential.

The last suggested PC is Douglas “Dougie” Van Horne, a modified lycanthrope with the soul of a bloodhound instead of a wolf, and boy, do I have things to say about him.

So, first of all, he comes from a family of dog breeders, and the book implies his powers are the result of their bond with the dogs. Leaving aside an obvious joke, I’m not entirely sure why breeders businessmen would have a strong bond with the dogs. On a purely emotional level, they raise a lot of dogs only to sell them to strangers. Plus, you know, the breeding industry is connected to some sketchy activities, like killing off defective specimens they can’t use and breeding abominations against nature with crooked spines, unworkable jaws and severely shortened lifespan in the name of cuteness and purism. Some even believe in telegonia, with predictable results.

And this particular family is shady as hell: they live in a small isolated town away from everything (farther isolated from the town itself by living on a tiny island near it), don’t advertise, yet still have regular clients. Sure sounds like a setup for underground dog fights or something.

Though maybe that’s it? Van Hornes were killing dogs for generations, so now their kids are cursed to be born with the souls of these murdered dogs. That does fit into how karmic curses generally work, plus it has a chance of improving dogs’ lot in life as well, since Douglas feels kinship with them and probably won’t mistreat them once he inherits the trade.

Mind, that’s not what the book goes for. Van Horne are described as this:


“The Van Hornes have been raising dogs on Van Horne Island for the last few generations, and boy have they ever gotten good at it. What they raise are smart, loyal, strong dogs, used to weird stuff happening around them. They ain’t easily spooked and I’ve seen a Van Horne hound take down one of the Savages* to protect its master. They’re expensive, though, and in high demand.”

*Mercifully, the Savages have nothing to do with race, not even in supernatural context. It’s not to say they’re handled well, but I’ll get to it. For now, it’s sufficient to say they’re humans.

What the book implies is that Van Horne are good people who know what they’re doing and raise strong, healthy dogs trained to deal with supernatural threats (and, given the Fount influence on animals, they actually would stand a good chance against lesser supernatural creatures, or at least would buy you a minute to shoot or work out your mojo).

What the book actually says is that the dogs are trained to kill people in defense (and probably on command) of their owners.

So, yeah, definitely shady and sinister.

Also, the book gives quick rules for building character templates similar to lycanthropes using different animal spirits:

“Make Pack Instincts and Human Form with Involuntary change optional. Pack Instincts only applies if the spirit is a pack animal, and limiting the powers to the full moon probably only applies to wolf spirits.”

Yeah, OK, why? As Farla has explained, the full moon connection is pop culture, not a part of the proper mythology. And it’s about magic in general anyway, not wolves. Why wolf spirits would need a full moon to grant full array of powers, but not other animals?

Well, there is no answer beyond “hack”, so let’s move on. Douglas himself is OK-ish. Not very bright, but loyal and friendly. He used to be friends with Betty before she went away to college. During this time, he became close with Camilla Runcie, but now that Betty is back he’s confused about his feelings, though there isn’t an indication that he would just ditch Camilla or anything. Seems like your typical teenage melodrama, even though the characters involved seem to be in their twenties.

His main problem as a character is that he isn’t very involved in stuff and seems to mostly exist on periphery. I guess he may work fine in a party with Betty, plus he generally helps people in town when they need to track something or someone, or when there are troubles (because dog soul makes him super-strong for some reason), but a central character he isn’t.

As I said, he’s our last suggested PC, so I would note here that the book broke a nice streak it had going with gender balance in PC parties: Las Vegas had three male and three female PCs, Russia had three female to one male. This chapter has two females to three males. Not a huge thing, but I thought it important to note.

So, let’s move onto NPCs.

The first one is abovementioned Camilla Runcie, or Miss Cammy because rural town. She’s in charge of a local general store. She’s also a deaf telepath who hears what people mean rather than what they say, though it’s mostly limited to only surface thoughts and has a very limited range.


Billy: This sound s like it might be skirting pretty close to violating the Third Law, doesn’t it?
Butters: It might be if Cammy were using a spell to do it , but it doesn’t sound like she is. It seems like she’s a natural one-way telepath. In any case, I wouldn’t want to go ask a Warden about his or her position on it; these people have enough to deal with as it is.

So, in other words, not only the Laws of Magic has nothing to do with actual morality of actions, just with the way the magic is used, they also only apply to a specific kind of magic because what is consistency.

Anyway, apparently, her talent doesn’t do her favor as far as dating scene goes:


“Being able to hear what people really think about you can make things awful lonesome, I’d imagine; Cammy’s never been on a date or much associated with boys her age, probably because…well, you know how boys are.”

No, book, tell me, how are the boys?

Well, however they are, I think the bigger issue here is that Camilla’s into bird porn:

“Apparently this knack of hers isn’t restricted to just people. One time I was telling her how I felt bad that she couldn’t hear birdsong, but she set me straight on that. She says she hears birds—and other animals—just fine, though it ain’t like with people. With people she generally gets clear thoughts and concepts, things she can translate into words or just interpret directly. She doesn’t seem to need to know your language to do it, though concepts sometimes get lost in translation, so to speak. With animals she says it’s more like pictures and impressions. Birds broadcast pretty loud on a regular basis according to Cammy, and she says that being around them makes her feel happy, free. It sounds a bit nicer than what we get, to tell you the truth.”

There is an SMBC comic for everything, and one day I shall do a review composed entirely of them.

She also appreciate Douglas’ affection, even though she doesn’t return it openly for reasons that are never explained because of course (probably because he wouldn’t wear the peacock costume she sewed).

Our next NPC is Albus Gandy, a local mechanic and techno-priest machine-speaker.

How can he have a magical talent allowing him to better understand and manipulate technology despite the whole hexing effect, you ask? The book has an answer to it!

Murphy: Doesn’t magic usually muck up machines? I know Harry can’t come near a computer without frying it.
Butters: Yeah, but I think that’s magic, and this is just a magical talent.
Murphy: Right, because that explanation makes sense.
Billy: I think Butters is onto something here. A wizard or a sorcerer or something would fry nearby tech, especially when casting spells. I don’ t though, and neither do the rest of the Alphas. Heck, most of us play World of Warcraft every night.

A terrible, terrible answer.

So, between this and out friend Victor von Onewizardindustrialrevolution, as well as stuff we’ve discussed in the section on hexing back in the day, it’s very clear that hexing is some kind of memetic virus that gets passed in the White Council through master-apprentice system.

People who don’t know they’re supposed to fry technology with their magic simply don’t.

Anyway, our mechanic actually is pretty close to a techno-priest. He speaks with the machine spirits, can convince them to stop working or work better, and generally knows precisely what’s wrong with a given piece of machinery and how to fix it.

That does say interesting things about technology, if it has spirits guiding it. Hm, maybe wizards fry technology not because of… whatever’s the reason DF goes with, but because the machine spirits are afraid of them, or hate them, and go away when they’re near.

It’s a recent thing, so presumably there was some kind of spiritual conflict around WWII that resulted in hostility.

Our next NPC is Coat-Like-Midnight, a sapient panther that holds a patch of land as its domain and demands an unspecified (because of course) but presumably bloody tall from everyone who wants to pass through (and people do need to go there from time to time). To town’s credit, they did try to drive him off or kill, but he’s cunning, sneaky, always knows when they’re coming for him and so far managed to kill more people then people killed panthers.

Yeah, not sure panthers would be that great against guns plus magic, especially since they aren’t that tough mechanically, but whatever, magical panthers with benefits of guerrilla warfare.

It’s an OK villain. Not too complicated, could be placated in case you don’t want a straight fight.

The next NPC is the Colonel, a White Court vampire and an owner of the local casino hotel located on a large boat. Also:

Huh.

Anyway, there is some interesting stuff about him: he feeds on despair, but apparently his victims don’t drown in it. Instead, he takes away their despair, leaving them feeling empty and exhausted. It sounds bad, but apparently has a positive effect on people. Alec actually was one of the victims, back in his youth when he’s lost a lot of money gambling, and that helped him to not do anything stupid but work out his depth and quit gambling.

That’s interesting. I thought White Court works by driving their victims deeper and deeper into their preferred emotions until they die, but this actually makes the concept of despair vampires viable and positive. They’re walking antidepressants, basically.

The Colonel seems to be a mostly positive influence on the city: he owns a big part of it, but doesn’t seem inclined to bulldozer it over for profit or anything. In fact, he often allows people to delay with paying the bills and doesn’t even charge interest. He is interested in opening the city more to the outside world.

He isn’t all nice, however. His favorite currency is promises, and the high-stakes games in his casino are done for favors. Them he does take seriously, and would absolutely murder anyone who refused to deliver what’s promised, though he rarely actually calls in these favors.

It also seems he does sometimes feed on people to death, driving them to suicide, he just limits it to tourists rather than locals.

He’s an OK ambiguous villain. Clearly evil, but too vital to everything to just get rid of him and capable of working with heroes against a common enemy. Basically, another Marcone, perhaps a bit more consistent.

The next NPC is the Conquistador. It’s a ghost or perhaps a Winter fae because the book loves vagueness. Once a year or so he appears in a cursed part of the swamp where ghosts and dark spirits gather and marches in a straight line towards the Fount, wherever it manifested at the time, destroying and killing everything and everyone in his way. The Sentinel sends plant constructs his way to delay and weaken him, then they battle until the Conquistador retreats to where he came from.

Aside from vagueness, it’s a fine event, if a bit too “random encounter” style. Could be used to complicate some other conflict, I guess.

Next is Ricky “Skeeter” Johnston and the Savages. Alas, not a band name.

So, Ricky was a local sheriff until he got bitten by a Red Court vampire the townsfolk were hunting down. He turned. For some time, he tried to cling to his humanity and not kill anyone, but then there was a warlock doing bad stuff, Ricky got angry and nommed on him.

Since then, he turned evil and started to live on an isolated town with people he’s kidnapped to serve as his minions and food supply.

Recently, he dropped dead due to Changes. The people he’s kidnapped, who were addicted to his saliva, went utterly batshit. They lurk around the town, kill whatever they find, animals, people, and eat them.

There is this delightful image of them:

The book talks about how the townsfolk “put a few out of their misery.” And I have some serious problems with that.

The thing is, whatever happened to them, it’s new. The comments in margins state that nothing like that happened to other addicted, and the Las Vegas chapter confirms it. They also seem to still be humans, not hosts to demons or anything.

So, how the fuck do they know these people can’t be helped? Maybe it’s something that wears off after the withdrawal syndromes pass, maybe it’s something that can be fixed with therapy or drugs, maybe they need an exorcist.

But no, there ain’t no thought left in them, just pure evil instinct.

Because, you know, otherwise treating them as wandering monsters and shooting without a second thought would be bad, and we can’t have that.

Anyway, the next NPC is Dmitri “Doc” Lewis, the local healer guy. He nearly lost his son to the Savages above, and afterwards the kid refuses to speak and is generally behaves as if in trance. Dmitri is deeply concerned over it and is willing to do anything to help, including working with the Deep Ones Fomors, who are around doing vague but bad things because of course.

He appears to be in cahoots with Withered Jim.

He’s a fine ambiguous character with good motives but bad methods.

Next is the section on Sentinel, and the book presents three options for him: a Summer fae assigned to protect the Fount, a Green Knight, who’s a mortal working with Summer Court in a system similar to regular Summer Knight, but only having the power to protect a specific location, object or a person, rather than blanket mantle, and an ancient mortal augmented by the Fomor.

See how much better giving us options works than vagueness?

And, yes, the book does imply he may be the Green Knight from the Arthurian legend. Plus, this option again acknowledges that a single Court Knight is a silly, silly idea, especially since fae are totally capable of granting any mortal powers, so there should be more people like that.

Anyway, the Sentinel is more stingy with the healing water than usual and seems to be in communication with Dmitri and possibly the Fomors, which bodes ill to the town. Naturally, we don’t get anything beyond that.

The next NPC is Missus Simmons, a local gossip and an owner of a boardinghouse where any outsider PCs are likely to find themselves. She’s here to deliver infodumps and justify PCs’ secrets being leaked to the general town population. Not much else to say.

Next NPC is Swampjack, an ancient immortal minstrel. He believes:

“See, Swampjack believes, and believes harder than anyone I’ve ever met. His faith is a tangible thing, you can feel it around him, hear it in his songs, and when his ire is up, it can hurt to look at him. He don’t hold to any particular church—seems to incorporate beliefs from just about every religion in the world—but that seems to make his faith stronger. I’ve seen him wield his belief like a weapon against the darkness, too, and I’ll tell you now that I would not want to get on his bad side.”

Because why commit to a particular cosmology when you can make a big mess of everything instead?

Anyway, he mostly entertains locals with songs and stories. He also hates the idea of the town opening to the larger world and would likely oppose any PCs coming from the outside and trying to fix or otherwise change things.

He’s also in love with Elizabeth, but due to their opposing views the relationship didn’t work out, though there are rumors they may be getting together again.

He’s… a kinda unexpected NPC that’s only tangentially connected with the rest of town and isn’t central to any conflicts. Even with town expansion, he feels like not exactly the right person to be at the center of the argument. His nature and backstory also feel rather GMPC-ish, an immortal who knows many historical figures, a musical genius…

Basically, don’t like him much. At least it’s easy to erase his existence.

Our next NPC is…

Oh, hey there, Zook. Retired to Florida, I see? How are happy worms doing?

Anyway, that’s Withered Jim, a guy in charge of the local junkyard. He’s also an insectomancer, capable of controlling bugs and also improving them, making them bigger and stronger than normal even for this place. No mention of penis worms, but I think their presence is strongly implied.

He has his nickname due to a withered leg, which he’s got in an unspecified event between him, Elizabeth and Swampjack.

He’s old, bitter and abrasive, often being up to no good and harming people in the process (mostly by stealing some of their stuff), but not outright evil. In fact,

“He helped us against Skeeter on more than one occasion, and I think those big bugs help keep the panthers and the Savages in line.”

I know it’s Skeeter and not Skitter, but still funny because bees.

He’s in cahoots with Dmitri, and lately pushes his bugs to become bigger and meaner, preparing for something big and, of course, unspecified.

He’s a fine character who can serve as an antagonist or a reluctant ally, depending on circumstances.

That’s more or less it, as far as important information goes, but there is a bit in one of locations’ descriptions that’s interesting:

“Folks don’t go to the Darkening; at least, not willingly. The place is full of Deadheads—large balls of cypress roots, carved with skulls and such—and it attracts ghosts and restless spirits like nobody’s business. They talk through the Deadheads. Scream, more like. Constantly. The one time I went into the Darkening, I had to wear earplugs to get through with my sanity intact; the things the Deadheads scream at you will break your mind if you let them.”

Oh, hey, I remember these thingies from On Stranger Tides. Are they from some folklore?

Also,

Because yes, I’m still going with this.

So, overall, the chapter didn’t escape some major morality blunders that seem so prevalent in DF-related materials. It also pretty much fucks all over canon concepts, introducing various exceptions or different interpretations, making the Laws of Magic even less meaningful than they already are, pretty much mocking hexing, and, of course, nearly rejecting the very idea of secrecy. Given what the canon is, though, it’s not altogether a bad thing.

I would say the chapter has merit. It’s pretty far from DF canon, both thematically and geographically, so I would say a good idea here would be to adapt the things you like into some other urban fantasy story. There is enough of stuff that can work well.

That’s it for now. In conclusion, remember! Reality is an illusion, the universe is a hologram, buy gold!

And don’t forget to tune in next time for South America, Central America and Mexico. They’re all the same thing, right?

9 Comments

  1. SpoonyViking says:
    And, yes, the book does imply he may be the Green Knight from the Arthurian legend.

    That’s potentially very interesting, but also potentially very stupid. Does the book actually address who and what was the Green Knight from Arthurian legend?

    1. illhousen says:
      A mortal empowered by the Summer fae to protect a place/person/object in their name.
      1. SpoonyViking says:
        That’s what the book says the Green Knight was in the original stories? So no mention of Morgan le Fay, or how the Green Knight – for all its pagan imagery – actually upheld chivalric (and thus, implicitly, Christian) values?
        So, “very stupid” it is. :-D
  2. Farla says:
    What the book actually says is that the dogs are trained to kill people in defense (and probably on command) of their owners.
    So, yeah, definitely shady and sinister.

    Okay, so, the bloodhound, despite the name, is not a dog you use for attacking. The original breed actually died out due to being totally useless at actually chasing down game. Bloodhounds aren’t fast and they aren’t strong, and they ended up used as leashed dogs to find prey over long distances, then when you get close you point your actual hunting dogs in that direction and let them chase it down and tear it apart. (That’s also why bloodhounds are generally silent animals, they were supposed to sneak up on prey.) Their only real use is to track down people.

    Genetically, they’re one of the worst breeds and the droopy skin exists only to make them suffer for fashion. BUT. Not all dog breeders run registered dogs, and those breeding working animals will often have perfectly healthy, functional animals. If that’s the case, then you could see the bloodhound spirits rewarding this family for producing happy dogs and not ones whose skin is falling off and are dead by five. Maybe those same bloodhound spirits also give the dogs sudden superpowers to defend their owners, because god, there is no way bloodhounds could do anything like this.

    Or with the curse direction and play up how absolutely awful it’d be to be a bloodhound with the sagging skin and the malformed organs and the death by bloat or cancer at a pitifully young age. Maybe the bloodhound kid is going to close up the family business and everyone’s all, “No that’s such a shame think of the history!!!” and he’s like, “Have you even seen these dogs?”

    But there’s a much better breed, the Catahoula Leopard Dog.

    https://www.youtube.com/embed/dadV4DCO_0g

    They’re significantly more athletic dogs, they’re far more versatile, they’re bizarre with the tree-climbing and webbed feet for swimming, they’re not really a registered breed in the first place but they’re quite popular with people who want functional animals, they’re bred to be swamp dogs so they fit perfectly to the area, and their major genetic flaw comes from the white gene causing deafness, so you could have the noble breeding family be known to only breed fully black animals – it sounds sinister but it’s what you’d actually do if you cared about the animal and, prior to modern genetics, only knew that whiter dogs were more likely to be deaf.

    Also in order to fully fix bloodhounds you’d have to move away from the look of them entirely – even with tighter skin there’s still those collapsed ears and the inevitable fungal infection they’ll get.

    I’ll come back for the rest of this later I just had to explain that the bloodhound thing makes no sense and sounds like the writers only knew the name of the dog and just guessed what they were from that.

    1. illhousen says:
      Reading more closely, they actually breed coonhounds. It’s Douglas specifically who’s described as having a soul of a bloodhound. He is noted as being a very skilled tracker capable of smelling people miles away. Doesn’t really make it better, from what I understand, just clarifying.

      “Maybe those same bloodhound spirits also give the dogs sudden
      superpowers to defend their owners, because god, there is no way
      bloodhounds could do anything like this.”

      That’s actually the Fount itself. A lot of animals living there tend to be significantly stronger and bigger than normal, so I guess even the hounds would be a somewhat viable option. Still a weird choice.

      1. SpoonyViking says:
        But strengthening something which isn’t good at fighting in the first place doesn’t seem like it should help against other strengthened things which actually were already good at fighting before the whole thing.
      2. Farla says:
        Huh. Okay, definitely curse then. Bloodhounds were used as part of making the coonhound breeds, but just for the nose because the rest of the animal is a hot mess. That’s absolutely the spirits telling the family to get their damn act together.
  3. Farla says:
    Bill is actually a good candidate for the role of subHarry. In absence of any other options, I’ll go with him fucking around Harry’s mind.

    …He really is, isn’t he! Snappy dresser (with black, no less) who’s very good at presenting himself as people want him to be, and also amoral, so of course he’d be all over telling Harry to listen to him more to get laid. And he creates two voidlike mindscape areas when dealing with people, so we don’t even have to wonder why we’re not seeing Harry’s mindscape. This demands a crossover.

    It’s also possible that Sidhe have the power to grant Wizard’s Constitution directly*, though in this case either each wizard must be brought before a fairy to perform a ritual, or some powerful sympathetic link must be provided, the latter not boding well for wizards since nasty things could be done with it. Though it does have a mythological flare to it.

    Handing fairies a powerful sympathetic link may be part of what the pact is – they’re given a degree of power over the wizards for a while in return for the boon. Do sympathetic links degrade over time as the person changes? That could mean that the older wizards age out of the pact, allowing them to do stuff like playing politics with the other fairy court.

    Sort of like the altraloths, where a yugoloth gets powered up by night hags in return for having to obey them for a time, only evidently less extreme and also supposedly the wizards aren’t forces of evil.

    So, in other words, not only the Laws of Magic has nothing to do with actual morality of actions, just with the way the magic is used, they also only apply to a specific kind of magic because what is consistency.

    I wonder if the writers were trying to signal that it’s okay to bend canon a little if a player has a particular cool idea. It’s nails on chalkboard to me – I figure that it goes without saying that if people want to change the rules they will but they’re buying the book to get a cohesive starting point, but maybe they figured the target audience was canon-obsessed kids so they wanted to pre-bend everything for people.

    It’s a recent thing, so presumably there was some kind of spiritual conflict around WWII that resulted in hostility.

    Nukes!

    If you assume machine spirits are grounded in the physical world, maybe shattering atoms means something big to them. Also fits with how what EMP pulses wreck has strong overlap with what Harry wrecks. Since it’s ridiculous for wizards to actually stay out of politics, let’s guess some of them were entirely too helpful back when the bomb was designed.

    I think the panther makes sense too – our advantages as humans are working in groups and being smart. If the panther has human level intelligence, then we’re just left with groups. Panthers are stealthier, faster, stronger, better able to track us, and probably more motivated than we are.

    Actually wait, those coonhounds should be able to track the panther by smell. Being able to track animals in trees or water is their whole thing. That’d nullify the panther’s stealth ability and also mean we could significantly increase our numbers/working together advantage. But it works if we assume the panther can either teleport or is untrackable by mundane means, which does fit panthers in theme terms. Alternatively, part of the family’s power is the deals they’ve made with things like the panther, so their dogs won’t help against it.

    Because why commit to a particular cosmology when you can make a big mess of everything instead?

    Hm. Well, it works fine if we assume all cosmology is equally bullshit and the only reason it ever seems true is because believing hard enough warps reality. And I like that because they were obviously not trying to offend any religion and now they’ve offended all of them, all because they didn’t think things through.

    1. illhousen says:
      “He really is, isn’t he!”

      Bill: Now, what you need to do is to finish what your mother has started.

      It fits very well, actually, since Harry’s mother had some shady dealing with various otherworldly creatures and did some extensive work in Nevernever.

      Headcanon accepted.

      “Do sympathetic links degrade over time as the person changes?”

      I’m not sure. We know that blood has an expiration date while hairs last longer, but that’s about it. I would presume that sympathetic links based on emotional bond (like a favorite toy) last for only as long as the bond does: once you forget all about the toy, it can no longer be used against you.

      As such, yes, it’s possible fae would get to influence you in various nasty ways for only a limited amount of time, which is, indeed, a good mythological price for prolonged lifespan.

      “I wonder if the writers were trying to signal that it’s okay to bend canon a little if a player has a particular cool idea.”

      Hm. The first volume does include the standard bit about how it’s fine to change whatever for the sake of having fun, so that feel redundant.

      I kinda suspect the devs themselves feel constrained by the canon and want to experiment around a bit with different takes on urban fantasy. It does fit the Las Vegas chapter with superheroes.

      “Nukes!”

      That does fit nicely. As I recall, nukes were established as having some spiritual weight by virtue of killing some crazy powerful creature.

      “But it works if we assume the panther can either teleport or is
      untrackable by mundane means, which does fit panthers in theme terms.”

      Not according to his statblock (he’s just super-fast and super-strong), but the latter is pretty easy to add. DF has a weird aversion to teleportation, though it can be done via stunts as well, it would just be a special rule for Athletics allowing you to pass between two points instantly. It would be a short-distance teleportation, though.

      Another idea is that the panther can walk into Nevernever and back, which would make him unreachable without magic and very hard to find even with it.

      “Alternatively, part of the family’s power is the deals they’ve made with
      things like the panther, so their dogs won’t help against it.”

      That’s a neat idea as well, and would give Douglas a more personal conflict to deal with, especially if he’s bound as well to some degree.

      “Well, it works fine if we assume all cosmology is equally bullshit and
      the only reason it ever seems true is because believing hard enough
      warps reality.”

      True enough, I suppose. Swampjack just screams GMPC to me, so I’m opposing everything he stands for on principle.

      “And I like that because they were obviously not trying to offend any
      religion and now they’ve offended all of them, all because they didn’t
      think things through.”

      Heh. I’m not so sure about it, actually, since they’re generally fine with using specific religions in other chapters.

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