The Paranet Papers, Part 5 (The Ways Between)

If there is one purely good thing I can say about this book, it’s that it tries new things. While the chapter on Las Vegas was a pretty standard urban fantasy setup, the chapter on Russia went into historical fantasy territory and tried to deal with a rarely used yet interesting period. The third chapter gave us a small community that abolished the secrecy, changing the standard dynamic the setting since on the one hand you don’t need to worry about hiding your powers, but on the other everyone knows what you are, which may be good or bad depending on your actions. The fourth chapter dealt with a massive continent-wide conflict attracting a lot of warring factions.And this chapter deals with travels and road trips rather than anchoring the game to one location.

Let’s see how well it does.

Also, neat picture:

The biggest disappointment of this chapter to me was the realization that it’s not about Nevernever, like I thought, but about travel in general, with some Nevernever stuff sprinkled over it. I understand why it was done this way: Nevernever is basically a setting in its own right that really warrants its own book rather than a chapter to utilize it fully. It’s a land of warring mythical creatures whose conflicts could easily overshadow whatever’s going on in the normal world. It’s simply too big to properly integrate it into the standard setup. As such, in urban fantasy context, it’s better used as a source of cool locations and occasional surreal trips here to liven up the game, kinda like Other Places in Unknown Armies.

Still, there is some great potential in this aspect of the setting, and I think the book misuses it.

So, what does this chapter actually contain? Well, it does start with the description of Nevernever and some additional rules for navigating it. Nevernever is described as a sort of cross between the Wyld and Sigil: it’s a land where mystical creatures live, where dreams literally become reality (and you can encounter dream selves of people), where gods dwell, etc. Pretty much anything that can exist does there.

Nevernever can be accessed from anywhere by using magic, but in some places it connects directly with the normal world and can be accessed even by pure mortals if they know how. Such places are called waypoints. Where they lead depends on emotional connections rather than geography, so it’s possible to have two waypoints located across a street from one another in the normal world leading to far-away corners of the Nevernever. The same principle applies to locations in Nevernever: their proximity depends on how closely they nature align rather than on some kind of static topology. As such, the whole place shifts constantly with the changes in personality or sometimes even the mood of creatures ruling over patches of it (called demesnes).

Faerie realms are the closest to the normal world for some reason, basically covering it with an exception of a few places leading elsewhere. If you enter Nevernever (with magic or through a waypoint), chances are good you’ll find yourself in Summer or Winter territory, and if you want to find god’s domain or something more exotic, you’d have to travel from there.

That seems odd to me. Indeed, there are many stories about people entering the domain of fae through a faerie ring or going under a hill or what have you, but there are also stories about people descending into Hades through a cave or entering some other magical realm. The theme of crossing boundaries and unwittingly finding yourself in an alien world is a popular one across many cultures.

I think this is related to Apu being counted as faeries in the previous chapter. It seems to me that DF uses “faerie” as a blanket term to cover anything folklore that doesn’t warrant its own category, like demons or werewolves. That seems rather inconsistent and misleading to me.

Anyway, after a rather brief discussion of Nevernever and some advice on how to handle its exploration (ways are protected and more or less guarantee safety, going away from them is incredibly dangerous, finding a way to a specific location may either require a Lore skill, finding someone who knows directions or players figuring it out in a form of a puzzle), the chapter moves on to the general travel, introducing the rules for handling hardships (basically, instead of having players keep track on how much supplies they have and the like, the potential dangers of travel are handled as attacks or contests initiated by the nature itself: physical attacks with ever-increasing difficulty to represent food running out, a contest against a static difficulty to see if you can get to the next gas station before running out of fuel, etc. Pretty good and easy) and providing advice on how to structure a road trip game.

The city creation rules are only partially applicable there, so the game proposes to create one theme and maybe a threat that’s going to affect the whole trip, and then design individual episodes. An episode starts with inventing a theme for it, then creating a problem that the characters would face, basing a threat with an appropriate aspect on it and creating two NPCs with opposite goals involved in that problem. It’s a pretty simple approach, and not a bad one if you need to quickly come up with something.

There is some more advice on travesties of travel, and then the chapter moves on to describing a sample road trip campaign. So, let’s see what it has in store.

First, there are the suggested PCs.

Robert “Not Bob the Rapist Skull” Aiello is an environmentalist college student who’s also into crystal-gazing and has actual magical talent to make use of it. Seems to be based on the stereotype of liberal college student all-around, and I sense some derision from the narrative towards him.

He’s made a foolish deal with a pixie called Windsnap who specializes in conning new age types by promising them power or other spiritual benefits in exchange for favors, like giving up their beloved pets, a pint of blood and so on. Windsnap was doing it for a long time and grew reasonably powerful from it, though it’s still a relatively low-class villain as this campaign is focused on low-tier characters. He tends to present himself as more powerful than he truly is via glamours.

The deal acts as the main conflict: Robert refused to make good on his promise, so Windsnap is after him. With the help of other characters, he has to find a way to get rid of the faerie.

Robert has a talent for divination and illusions, but very few other useful skills, though there is a possibility for grows in him and branching out into other aspects of thaumaturgy or maybe even purchasing some evocation.

Emily Harris is Robert’s girlfriend. She was an eco-terrorist sabotaging various industrial projects before an encounter with a federal prosecutor scared her straight. Since then, she engages only in legal environment movement, though her skills are still here.

She’s a skilled saboteur capable of breaking pretty much anything and getting away with it with nobody noticing, though she lacks any fighting skills. Seems the characters here are more focused than in other chapters, which is not surprising given their tier is lower.

Ian Harris is Emily’s overprotective brother. He’s a former marine with PTSD because all veterans have it.

Great fighting skills, little else.

Together, they try to escape the faerie and save Robert’s ass.

The characters are much more sketchy than the ones in other chapters, which is not a bad thing, though their concepts are also less interesting, especially in the context of the proposed campaign. The environmental issues are actually interesting when you add fantasy stuff into the mix. The consequences are much more immediate than in reality, especially once you take Nevernever into account: destroying a forest to create a pasture would disconnect this place from one part of Nevernever and connect it to another, which may be good or bad, depending. Certainly, pollution would attract some nasty spirits. Plus, striking against nature would also strike against nature spirits, typically with dire consequences. Think Princess Mononoke.

Unfortunately, the book doesn’t take advantage of it. The environmentalist connection is used only to set up the chase, and a bargain with faerie could be done in any number of ways. The campaign itself doesn’t really deal with environmental issues, the proposed scenarios are just a collection of stuff you can encounter on a trip, and the attempts to work in the environmentalism as a part of the conflict are clumsy at best.

I would also note that we’re back to men outnumbering women among the suggested PCs, and we’re also back all the way to Baltimore chapter from the first volume when it comes to roles distribution: Robert is a magic expert (well, magic novice, more like, but still a magic guy) and the core of the conflict, Ian is the fighter and Emily is stealthy. Changing Ian’s gender would solve the issue, and an overprotective former marine sister would be at halfway original.

After describing the characters, the book moves on to potential scenarios, outlining the basic situation, presenting the involved NPCs and describing the problem that needs to be resolved, plus a reason for the suggested PCs to be there and get involved (though most scenarios could be encountered at random just by traveling around and stumbling upon them).

The first scenario is called Lost and Found.

The gist of it is that there is a scrapyard where you can find various (used) things that could come in handy, including some magical trinkets, and buy them for your own things of value. The barter price is fair, though the owner, Mickey, tends to go after things you would miss to add to his collection.

His ultimate goal is to resurrect a spirit of machinery and industry that was cut into parts back in the day. To do so, he hunts after the original parts of the spirit (so, related to the comments for the third chapter, spirits are bound to the physical world at least sometimes). The spirit is half-awoken by now and can reshape scrapyard at will, attacking anyone who tries to steal stuff from there or otherwise threatens Mickey. The spirit also grants him some limited powers.

The conflict comes from the fact that Mickey has obtained an item called Shamir, supposedly one of the tools God has crafted before the creation of the world to help in His work. Mickey apparently plans to use it to stitch the spirit together.

Another guy, Saul, is a champion of God on a mission to retrieve it. He would prefer to avoid a fight and get the item peacefully, but would otherwise use any means necessary.

I would note here the difference between the Knights of the Cross (who are defined as being good at basically all times and always doing the right thing) and our Jewish champion, who’s willing to slaughter innocent people in order to reach his goal, even if he regrets and would like to avoid it. If I were to run this scenario, I would either change it so he’s unwilling to shed the blood of innocent but also really determined to get the item, or simply replace him with someone less religiously charged. The nature of the scrapyard is such that anyone can potentially want to get something out of it, for good or evil.

Now, to be fair, Saul is presented sympathetically. The suggestion here is to use him as a quest-giver and a potential recurring ally, should the characters help him. Still, though…


Mountain Tamers

Next scenario takes place near a mountain empowered by something malicious. As usual, the book goes for vagueness, so it could be a faerie, spirit or a mountain itself being alive. Either way, bad things happen to anyone who tries to go up the mountain.

Now the government wants to build a road on it or through it. Specifically, Mark Caraway, a middle manager, thinks it’s a great idea.

He thinks so because Lazarus, a warlock grifter, brainwashed him into buying this land from him and building a road there.

Lazarus is described as a warlock skilled in mind magic who’s made a pact with an Outsider (read: Cthulhu). He pops up here and there, scamming people out of their money and sometimes of their children, creating cults and abandoning them. Seems like a waste of Cthulhu to me, more a job for your typical warlock hungry for power.

But at least he has sponsored magic granted to him by his Cthulhu. Are you prepared for the description of brand-new, never seen before magic from Things man Was Not Meant To Know?

No. No, you aren’t.

Butters: What does Outsider Magic give him?
Billy: I have no idea, and I’m not going to try and fin d out, either. GMs, you’ll just have to be creative here and catch up on your Lovecraft.

Thanks, book, that was really helpful.

Anyway, the conflict is obviously that any attempt to build a road on the mountain would end in disaster and lost lives, and Mark would probably just pour more people into the project under Lazarus’ influence, so it should be stopped.

Here we see the weakness of involving environmentalism in this particular campaign. The suggested hook is that Robert and Emily are concerned over disturbing the patch of nature untouched by civilization, so they get involved and soon find out about Lazarus. The thing is, what are they going to do about it? They’re pursued by an angry faerie, so they can’t stay around for more than a few days. Environmentalism protesting requires organization, preparation, resources. They would need to examine the situation, find out why it’s happening and who’s responsible, talk with locals, raise awareness of possible consequences to the nature and people around, etc. It’s just not something you do on a run. I guess they may decide to collect info to post in their blogs or something, but that’s about it.

The Voice in the Trees

There is an old tree near a crossroad a mile away from the nearest town. Its bark looks like a face, so it’s called Old Man Tree. It soaks misery it witnesses and then unleashes it on anyone foolish enough to get near, drowning people in sadness and despair. The tree doesn’t seem to be malicious by itself, it’s just how it works.

Anyway, there is also Veronica, a woman of very loose proportions:

She’s also a White Court vampire feeding on despair. Unfortunately, not an antidepressant. She was kicked out of her own family because she was causing way too much trouble, so now she runs around as a biker, getting into even more trouble. Recently, she started taking people she would pick up in bars to see Old Man Tree and wallow in their misery, which she considers very fulfilling. She doesn’t kill, but it’s not a point in her favor since those people tend to commit suicide or otherwise ruin their lives after the experience.

Enter Frank Collins, a family man and a professional monster hunter. It’s a family business, apparently, and Frank is the patriarch of a local family branch. He isn’t very discriminate when it comes to defining monsters and would kill pretty much anyone with supernatural powers because this book hates vigilantism even as it likes to point out how easily supernatural creatures avoid the law. He’s a honorable man, though, apparently, and respects his debts even before supernatural.

Not honorable enough to avoid collateral damage, however. He hunts Veronica, who evades him by putting enthralled meatshields between her and Frank’s family, and a lot of people are getting caught in a crossfire. Veronica isn’t willing to leave because of the cool tree, and Frank is not going to back down, either.

A pretty straightforward scenario. Characters can be easily caught between two warring factions and may be inclined to help stop the conflict if they’re sufficiently heroic or if one of the parties involved has useful info. Veronica’s character should be improved, of course. Seems she sould be more connected to the tree than simply finding its juice delicious, and there are many better options for her characterization than “sexy biker babe.”

Unsafe

There is a safehouse maintained by James and Kaitlin Pauley. It has a very strong threshold, so people inside are generally safe from whatever supernatural creatures may wait for them outside. The owners know about the supernatural and welcome anyone without malicious intentions, as long they’re willing to do some simple work around the house to pay for their stay. They know a lot of random stuff, so may point the characters in the right direction. They don’t like when guests stay for more than a few days, however.

Despite every PC instinct in me screaming “trap!” they actually are as nice as they sound. The problem comes from a giant spider living in nearby woods. It mostly keeps to itself, but every few years it spawns smaller spider (a size of a van) making the woods dangerous. The spider eats its young, however, and so far was able to eat every one of them.

The rest of the time it sleeps and weaves a dream web designed to capture dreamers and eat them, or, at best, drive them mad with nightmares. Sometimes it also lays eggs inside the dreams, and they hatch in real world, turning humans into withered husks and crawling out of their corpses.

Recently, the threshold of the safehouse started to erode, and the owners are plagued by nightmares. They know what that means and are prepared to move away soon, but of course they’re not averse to hire traveling PCs to get rid of the spider one way or another in exchange for information.

Now, the scenario itself is fine, but I have to question why the spider does what it does? From what I understand, animals typically eat their young when there are not enough resources around. Eating all your young, every time seems counter-productive, especially since there are plenty of delicious humans around. So, I would change it.

First, the spider doesn’t eat dreaming people, only their dreams, which does produce madness and tiredness, but isn’t life-threatening. Secondly, it doesn’t spawn in the real world, it only lays eggs in dreams. And when little spiders mature inside the people, they not only absorb their dreams, but also their very souls. Then the spider eats them, devouring the souls of people as well, thus gaining something it couldn’t get otherwise, becoming stronger and bigger as a result.

This model seems more intuitive and elegant to me.

Rough Waters

Long story short, there is a small town that made a deal with some kind of water spirit. The spirit promised them to ensure safety on the river and bountiful fishing harvests. In exchange, they simply agreed to keep the location of its lair hidden from everyone, so it’s a pretty neat bargain as these things go.

Now, however, the spirit is angry and restless, which doesn’t bode well for the town.

The apparent source of the problem is Auntie Ten, an old witch for hire skilled in curses. Apparently, she ran a business and dealt with some very important people who would like their enemies to suffer misfortune, but then suddenly closed her shop and moved away, there. Her motivation and specific plan are kept vague because this book doesn’t give up this shit, but it’s a good bet she’s the one behind the spirit being mad.

The guy in charge of town and the one talking with the spirit knows a lot about supernatural and would trade this information in exchange for calming down the spirit.

The vagueness of Ten’s goals undermines this scenario rather severely. While I can come up with a number of reasons for her to do so, I’m not interested enough to do it. The scenario is pretty sketchy and otherwise forgettable, as is often the case with them, so I see no reason to use it at all rather than going with something else or invent my own.

Morris’s Bane

I’m very, very disappointed in this scenario. Not because it’s that bad, but because it botches horribly one of the core horror concepts: don’t show the monster without need.

So, the gist of it is that there is a coal mine hiring day laborers and paying in cash. The wages are fair, though the work is hard. The book suggests PCs in general may come here looking for job if they’re short on money, or Robert and Emily specifically may be opposed to the mine pollution. Again, what are they going to do in a few days they can afford to stick around? Talk sternly to the manager? The guy doesn’t even have the authority to close the mine.

Anyway, the problem is that there is a demon bound to the mine. It made a bargain with a mine manager long ago to keep the mine profitable and safe from any and all accidents in exchange for a human sacrifice every couple of weeks. Day laborers are rarely missed, especially ones hired from drifters. Since then, the deal was passed from one manager to another. The demon has mental powers, so it’s understandable why the chain wasn’t broken until now.

The demon is called Bright Eyes because that the only thing managers remember after seeing it.

It consumes souls of the sacrifices, and is almost ready to break free and wreak havoc on the mine and the surrounding territories.

So far so good. You have a dark claustrophobic setting, a monster lurking in the darkness, with just one feature known about it that lets your imagination wander without providing any details that would allow you to comprehend it.

And then… we actually have pictures of the demon.

Dear Cthulhu, this thing is ridiculous!

Look, I’m sure I’m not going to surprise anyone by saying that using the fear of the unknown is one of the most powerful tools in the arsenal of a horror writer. Your readers’ imagination is always going to be greater than your descriptive ability, and so you should hint, you should tease, but you should not reveal the true form of the monster without a good reason.

And there are reasons to reveal it, mostly when you want to tap into some other fear. Go for uncanny valley with the monster looking almost, but not quite human, tap into body horror with grotesque imaginary, defy the common sense and any hope for comprehension with something truly bizarre, something.

What we see here, however, is inexcusable. Any fear I could have felt thinking about running in the dark from something hunting me down is utterly ruined by this bastard child of Gollum and Storm.

To think, one time vagueness would have been a plus, they went for clarity.

I’m probably reacting more strongly than I would if I didn’t recently see the Over the Garden Wall cartoon (which I very much recommend for everyone to see, and especially for Gravity Falls fans), which made me appreciate the fear of the unknown all the more. The main villain in the cartoon is known only as the Beast, and for the majority of time we don’t see his form, only his eyes in the shadow. He isn’t exactly a horror villain, but he taps into similar trappings. The fact he’s always concealed by the shadows gives his presence a gravitas and mystery he would have lacked otherwise.

There is one moment when his true form is revealed. It only lasts for half a second or so, and it’s great because your mind isn’t going to process it, you’re just going to see some twisted misshapen grotesque flesh illuminated once and then gone in the darkness.

Then I’ve made a mistake to search for a screenshot with his form, and it ruined him for me because, well, he’s a cartoon character and looks the part.

The moral here is that if you aren’t a great artist, hiding it as much as possible is a good idea, especially in horror.

Otherwise, the scenario is fine if only applicable to PCs with money problems or some prior interest in the mine. Just don’t show the pictures to your players and don’t describe the demon in too much detail.

Stuck in the Middle

The Wolf’s Den is a shady bar catering to bikers and truckers passing through. Despite what you may expect from DF-related stuff, it has nothing to do with werewolves. The barkeeper, Dave Helman, is actually a changeling with the blood of troll in his veins. He keeps the peace inside the bar and quickly stops any fights, though he doesn’t care much what goes down outside.

A biker gang Diablos, which deals in meth, frequents the bar and treats it as their base of operation. Again, no relation to demons. I’m honestly surprised.

Their leader, Ruby, is possessed by a rage spirit granting her super-strength, speed, toughness and recovery as long as she appeases it with some bloodshed. She’s not a soulwolf or a beltwolf despite the similarities, it’s just a random rage spirit, not even an animal one.

Seems like this stuff would be a more probable source of berserk legends.

Anyway, there is another guy, Derek Gentry, a thief and information broker with an ability to enter and exit Nevernever at will. The book suggests he would make a good PC if you want more morally-dubious party, bringing the total balance of suggested PCs in the chapter to 3 men and 1 woman.

He was hired to steal something unspecified (of course) from Ruby but got caught, with something unspecified (of course) keeping him from simply going to Nevernever. You know, book, you could have just made him a normal guy without powers or granted him some powers that simply wouldn’t be useful (or enough) in the situation.

Well, whatever. The current situation is that Dave doesn’t allow Ruby to beat Derek up, and also doesn’t allow him to leave for unspecified (of course) reason. Ruby doesn’t like it and is willing to go against Dave, troll or no troll, if the situation isn’t resolved soon.

The proposed hook is that either Derek is Ian’s old friend and Ian hears about his predicament and decides to help, or PCs simply search for him because he knows something or can get them something they need.

Now, personally I have trouble imagining the situation remaining at a standstill long enough for the PCs to get there if they’ve heard about it in some other town. Derek being after Ruby also means he wouldn’t request to meet anyone there on his own, so PCs seeking him out can’t just stumble upon the scene. And PCs who don’t know about what’s going on and just going into the bar for drinks and finding angry bikers inside would probably just back off unless they’re particularly heroically-inclined (though if they arrive just when the fight starts, they may be caught in it. Maybe Derek sees them and screams “Adam, my buddy! Help!” ensuring Ruby would go after them as well). That makes it rather hard to use in practice.

Personally, I would reverse the connection: Derek is the one who frequents the bar because it’s far away from anything dangerous in Nevernever and he knows the area very well, plus it’s reasonably close to civilization in the normal world while being isolated enough that his more weird customers wouldn’t be out of place.

He’s stolen something from Ruby, so now she hunts him down. Being smart (she actually is described as smart), she dug up some info on him and procured and artifact blocking his passage to Nevernever.

The PCs have a meeting planned with Derek in the bar to get some info they need or hire him for some job, but when they arrive there, Ruby’s already inside, and things are going to get south very fast. Now the PCs need to figure out a way to get Derek out in one piece. Dave is mostly useless here, so he may be replaced by a regular barkeeper. Though I suppose he may stall a fight for a short time to allow PCs to plan or attempt a diplomatic solution.

Otherwise, a pretty straightforward scenario.

Stone and Water

There is an old flooded quarry. In the middle of it, there is an island that looks like it just kinda grew there one day. On the island, there is a concrete construction very similar to Stonehenge. The construction is placed on top of a powerful power nexus and is guarded by a Summer fae and her court. The fae is bound there and wants to get free. To do so, she’s willing to make bargains for anything in her (pretty respectable) power. She’s open to other bargains as well, though, being a faerie, her prices are double plus ungood for you.

There are unspecified people who want the nexus and are willing to free the fae for it, which would be a bad thing. For once, the book actually has a reason for vagueness as you’re supposed to insert an established villain from your games or DF canon there to remind players they’re still around and are still doing bad stuff while the PCs travel.

Eh, still would prefer a more defined scenario. The advice to insert an old villain into a road trip scenario unexpectedly is a good one, but it can apply to other scenarios as well, like replacing Lazarus with Harry or Bright Eyes with Bob.

It’s also one of the proposed places for the climax of the proposed campaign, with Robert harnessing enough power from the nexus to drive off Windsnap for good. Because, yeah, it’s really Robert’s story when you thin about it, with the other PCs being in it because of him. That’s not the best approach to building a PC party, you generally want to provide each character with individual conflicts if you go that route, or present a conflict that would engage all of them. As it is, the only thing keeping Emily around is her love for Robert, and the only thing keeping Ian around is his love for Emily, so ultimately Robert’s fate is their only stake in the matter (well, unless the favor Windsnap demands is to sacrifice Emily, I guess).

Wake Up, Dreamer

There is an abandoned asylum which Nevernever side shifts constantly into mundane and unreal location. It always has an occupant, however. It’s species, personality, backstory, gender and appearance change as well, and in it’s more lucid moments it admits to not knowing what it is.

One thing is clear: it wants to be free.

Oh, and it calls itself Patient X.

The asylum is guarded by the order of Justinians led by a Justinian wizard. He warns people away from the place and forbids access to the asylum for reasons unknown because of course. He seems to be a reasonable man, and the book is very insistent that he has good reasons while also trying to leave the possibility of him having sinister motives open with comments like this:

“One thing I’m certain of: Patient X is powerful. Maybe it’s a demon or an Archfae or an Outsider, but whatever it is, I’m pretty sure that Garrow and his crew have a good reason to keep Patient X trapped and confused. If that’s the case, Quarrel getting his hands on Patient X could result in his power multiplying a hundredfold.

Freeing Patient X could be even worse.


Of course, I could be way off-base about the Justinians. Maybe something else entirely is keeping Patient X trapped, and their angle is to grab some of that juice for themselves. I don’t think that’s the case but, like I said, I’ve been wrong before.”

See what I mean about the vagueness? “It can be anything, but it’s probably bad, but don’t take my word for it even though you have no other sources.” Look, book, if I want to turn Justinians into bad guys, I will. If I want to turn Patient X from a Cthulhu into Professor Xavier, you better believe I will. Now give me an actual scenario.

Anyway, you might have noticed the name Quarrel being mentioned. He’s a wild fae trying to carry a favor with Summer Queen by getting his hands on Patient X and its power, which naturally creates a conflict with Justinians.

This scenario is much more closely tied to the suggested PCs than the rest. Quarrel is the guy Windsnap answers to, so the suggested hook for the characters to get involved revolves around engaging in fae politics: they may try to form an alliance with Windsnap against Quarrel, help Quarrel with getting to the Patient X in exchange of getting Patient X off their backs, or side with Justinians against them both.

For other characters, getting them involved would require more effort, and the book isn’t really helpful in this, not providing any advice. I think the easiest option would be for them to stumble upon the asylum in Nevernever, chat with Patient X in one of its more amiable forms and maybe form enough of a bond to help it. If they don’t form a bond, they could be approached by Quarrel with promises of Summer gratitude if they help him, or they could be caught in a crossfire between Quarrel and Justinians. Justinians would protect them, then explain the situation and say bad things would happen if Patient X were to be released, so the sufficiently heroic characters would stick around to help.

This scenario is intriguing, but undermined by the damned vagueness.

An Occurrence at Cripple Creek Bridge

“Theme: Deceptively Deep Rabbit Hole”

“Deceptively deep” means “not as deep as it seems,” book. In context, it means something like a story that looks like a complex mystery with many suspects all having the motive and means and no solid alibi, with the solution being stupidly easy, like the guy the detective suspected from the start who shouted about wanting to kill the victim the night before the murder actually being guilty.

Anyway, the gist of it is that there is a bridge with a strong connection to Nevernever due to some guy dying there shortly after his marriage and sticking around as a shade, forever searching for his lost love whose body was never found. He’s described as an unusually strong shade, which is pretty surprising considering that during his life he was a typical young fuck-up: some problems with the police, not much future ahead of him. Also, he looks like this:

The face I forgive him because death. The hair and clothes is all him, however.

Anyway, his presence warps the local Nevernever, making it easy even for pure mortals to cross to the other side. He won’t leave unless he can meet his wife or otherwise find peace.

As usual, the book doesn’t provide any solution to the problem: no information as to why the body was never found, it just says that any good ghost story involves a mystery, so you should solve one without actually creating a proper mystery.

The shade guy is not the only entity around, however. There is also Vasiliki Petros, a Greek wizard aristocrat. By day, she’s a community guide in her home town in Greece, the title that apparently carries a lot of local political power. By night, she’s an undisputed ruler of her demesne, with faerie guardians and contacts with sidhe.

People who cross into Nevernever on the bridge can’t come back, and her demesne is the closest to the site, so it’s easy to find. She offers protection to those who swears fealty to her, and she does protect them, but also treat them as her rightful subjects.

So now we know why wizards aren’t big on politics: they just go to Nevernever and play feudal lords with helpless people. Magic is easier here, they have an advantage of knowledge, so it’s easier for them to maintain their superiority. Plus, demesnes are shaped by the will of their owners, so wizards who have them are basically minor gods on their territory. It all makes sense now.

Another denizen of the local Nevernever is Singh. He’s a minor dragon in service of a major dragon, and he gets no respect, according to him. His domain is a garish display of wealth and luxury lacking true style.

He offers people who wander there to stay and partake of any imaginable luxury, but it slowly hollows them from inside, and in the end they become decorations for his lair.

Due to the emotional connections of ambition outreaching their potential, the demesnes of Singh and Vasilikiborder each other. Why they also border the bridge I don’t know, maybe they’re into the Cure.

Anyway, the main conflict naturally revolves around them kidnapping people. It should be easy to motivate the PCs to work against the two, either simply out of heroic impulse to free the enslaved, because one of the enslaved is a loved one of one of the PCs, or because they themselves are trapped in the local Nevernever and have to escape now.

Shade’s story is only tangentially connected with the rest. The book suggests to use it as the first layer: the PCs solve the mystery of the shade, whatever that may be, then two powers come to claim the bridge for themselves to continue their kidnappings. Eh, seems to me it really should be something more interconnected, maybe a consequence of a ritual or something. In general, I think the shade should be changed to someone more interesting. I get that the idea here is to contrast the mundane origins with the sheer impact of the shade, but, meh, part of the fun in ghost stories is to uncover all layers of some fucked up story rather than deal with some random guy who didn’t know how to drive.

Otherwise, not a bad scenario. Some good things could be done with it.

And that’s it as far as scenarios go. The chapter ends with some random encounters that could be unleashed on players at any time and don’t require much time to resolve, like a crazy murderer in a bunny suit (apparently, an actual urban legend, and the book won’t shut up about it, I actually recall it being mentioned in the second volume as well), cursed cars, disappearing hitchhikers who turn out to be dead all along, that kind of thing.

The only one I would comment on is Goatman, a cross between a goat and a man, as you may guess, using his awesome animal powers of, I don’t know, eating junk to kill random people.

The concept itself is straightforward enough: man/animals hybrids are an old idea, as are crazy murderers. By itself, it could work when you need to throw in a quick not entirely serious encounter. The issue here is that the book implies it’s a scientific experiment…

Specifically, Goatman has aspects Science Experiment Gone Wrong and Mad Scientist, the catch to bypass his supernatural recovery is unknown—maybe radiation or strange chemicals, and the comments in the margins discuss the possibility of scientific origin (though mercifully one characters debunks it, claiming that Goatman must be some kind of magical creature).

OK, so, remember the conversation about the X-Men in las Vegas? I don’t mind him much. There are various precedents in urban fantasy for hyper-specialized magical talents manifesting spontaneously, so I’m generally fine with them. Nasuverse is full of such things, for example, between Shiki’s Eyes, Shirou’s love for swords, DDD as a whole and some of the KnK antagonists. They can work fine in a fantasy setting, it’s all in tone and atmosphere.

This, however? This is where I draw the line. You shall not pass here, Mad Science! Your place is in comics and pulp and related things, not in urban fantasy!

…Unless you’re serving Pharaoh90, then, please, proceed at your leisure.

And on that dismal note the chapter ends.

Overall, as I said, I’m disappointed by the lack of Nevernever here. Travels are all fine and well, but I was expecting the chapter on the Wyld and its denizens, not a road trip.

Well, if we do take the chapter on its own merits, it’s not too bad. The episodic nature of it means it’s much more easy to steal ideas without spending too much effort to adapt them. I can’t, for example, use the Russia chapter without some major changes, to the point I think it would be easier to just do everything myself from scratch. This one, I can mine for good ideas and throw out the rest with ease.

Unfortunately, that ease comes at a price. The scenarios presented here are a good illustration of how to create your own scenarios on the fly, but they also illustrate that such scenarios would be pretty simple, hardly worthy of being a pinnacle of your game. It’s something you use when you don’t have better, more refined ideas, or when you aren’t in the mood to put an effort into the game and just want to have a bit of fun with your friends. As such, they aren’t really worth being in an actual published book, in my opinion.

Well, that’s it for now. Tune in next time for some tips on how to build your very own Mary Sue. Also, Glorious Revolution 2: Magic Boogaloo: immortality to the workers, demesnes to the peasants!

One Comment

  1. Nerem says:
    I think SMT had the right idea making all supernatural spirits share the same uber-category, demon. Which use to be a generic term for ‘spirit’, so it fits.

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