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"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."


THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

CYPHER SYSTEM 2D10?

EVEN THOUGH I AM currently running The Dracula Dossier, Monte Cook Game's Cypher System remains my current favorite RPG.  Despite all the things I love about it--the simple "on a scale of 1 to 10" resolution mechanic, the "hands free" approach to game mastering, the experience system, etc--after a lengthy Numenera campaign some of my players had concerns.  Well, perhaps "concerns" is the wrong word, but "complaints" isn't right either.  Let's just say they expressed a preference, and not exactly a new one.  As the perennial GM, I think it is crucial to listen to your players, and since the preferences they expressed exist throughout gaming circles, I thought I would share their feedback and my response to it here.

It's the d20.

Cypher works--as you may already know--by assigning a Difficulty of 1 to 10, with 1 being ridiculously easy and 10 being nearly impossible.  Applying character assets--skills, abilities, equipment, favorable conditions--lowers this Difficulty. The final Difficulty level is then multiplied by 3, giving the number you must roll equal to or higher on a d20.  It works beautifully.  

But...the d20 is a flat roll.  There is no bell curve there.  You have the same chance (5%) of rolling a 1 and triggering a free GM intrusion as you do a 20 and earning a major effect (think fumble and critical if you are an old grognard like me).  Technically you have the same chance of rolling your target number as well.  Imagine the frustration of tackling a massive, Level 6 Difficulty; you apply your skill specialization and drop it two levels to 4, and splurge on a massive three levels of effort to lower that to 1.  All you need to do is beat a 3.  Aaaaaaand then you roll a 1.

Sure, "them's the breaks" in a dice-based system.  It's been an (in)famous aspect of d20 systems for a while (and the source of innumerable D&D memes).  On the other hand I can well appreciate the player frustration of exerting such massive skill and effort to a task and still failing disastrously.  Not only that, but it tends to make games more extreme with disasters and amazing successes cropping up equally often.   

Now you may well see this as a feature rather than a flaw, and to be honest so do I.  I've heard similar complaints over the last thirty years running Call of Cthulhu with Chaosium's equally flat percentile roll, in which far too many detectives miss vital clues and expert scientists botch the most basic analyses.  Heck, that's where Trail of Cthulhu came from.  To my mind Cypher has greatly mitigated the frustrations of the old Basic Roleplaying system with ideas like assets and effort.  But for groups who dislike the flatness of the d20, there are a couple of easy fixes.

1. THE SLIGHTLY TORG SOLUTION

Peering back through the ages to West End Game's TORG, we find one possible solution.  TORG had an experience point/hero point combination called "Possibilities."  While used to advance characters with new skills and higher stats, they could also be spent for in-game goodies.  Like Cypher, TORG used a d20, and one of the things a player could do was spend a Possibility to ensure a roll of 10 or higher.  After spending that point, any roll of 1-9 effectively counted as a 10, while 10 or higher remained the same.

This works just as well for Cypher.  Spend an XP and guarantee a roll of 10 or higher.  This is a perfect solution for more cinematic games, where players usually succeed at the critical moment.  At the same time, experience is experience, and not something players want to spend willy nilly.  

If you really want to go over the top--and this works very well for four-color supers and cinematic secret agents--allow a player to spend two experience points for an automatic 20.

2. THE BASICALLY GURPS ANSWER

Trade in the d20 for 2d10.

This was the way Steve Jackson went with his GURPS, built around 3d6 for all die resolutions.  By making the switch, you are installing a built-in bell curve.  Behold the following graph, shamelessly borrowed Scott Boehmer's excellent discussion on 2d10 in D&D


Click me to enlarge

Making this switch, you have roughly the same chance of rolling a 10 or less, about 50% in both cases, but the likelihood of extreme rolls greatly decreases.  The odds of rolling a 1 or a 20 drops from 5% to 1%.  This has the effect of really making a character's assets and effort more important; in the example above, after dropping the Difficulty from 6 to 1 the player has a 1% chance of failing, down from 10%.  In essence, it shines the spotlight on a character's training and determination, reducing the whims of chance and fate.  On the other hand, you are greatly reducing the odds of triggering the special effects and bonuses that come with high rolls.  


       

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

THE DRACULA DOSSIER: DAYS OF DISHONORABLE PEACE, SESSION FOUR

For a full summary of sessions one to three, see here.

WE ARE USED TO GENRE MIXING, we role players.  Shadowrun has been mixing cyberpunk and high fantasy for nearly thirty years.  We've seen steampunk fantasy (Castle Falkenstein), horror westerns (Deadlands), superhero war dramas (Godlike), and multi-genre free-for-alls (TORG, Rifts).  Even the original 1974 Dungeons & Dragons was a bit of a gumbo, a mix of weird fiction, high fantasy, and sci fi.  Yet despite having run horror espionage before (Delta Green and Conspiracy X), something about The Dracula Dossier daunted me when I first sat down to sketch out the campaign.  As an obsessive fan of the novel, it was essential to me that the game feel "Stoker," but I didn't want to neglect the crucial other half of it.  I feel that four sessions in, my gaming group and I finally got the balance right.

Session four of Days of Dishonorable Peace opens with a bang.  Well.  Almost.

Having broken into the tomb of Laura Wexford (our Lucy Westenra) to examine her remains (or to see if the casket is empty), the team instead discovers the opposition has left a nasty surprise for them.  The coffin contains neither a vampire nor human remains but a bomb, a combination of ball-bearings and C-4.  Fortunately for the team, CIA operative William McPherson has eight points in Explosive Devices, saving their lives in a daring rapid defusing.

These leaves questions; who was behind this?  Edom?  Dracula?  How did the opposition know the team was coming?  The agents suspect their Internet searches for the identities of the 1894 network must have triggered red flags, while the players know Dracula has nightly been interrogating CIA agent Lacey Mickelson.  Lacey's player has decided to keep these nightmares to herself, and to play the slow erosion of the character's stability.  This was completely true to the spirit of Stoker, giving us a "Mina" in the group.

While McPherson and Mickelson investigate the bomb design, Douglas Reid and Luna Richter scout the grounds outside the Highgate tomb, and there discover the remains of Laura Wexford.  Whoever planted the bomb simply dumped her skeleton, still in the decayed wedding gown, in the underbrush.  Mickelson, an expert in forensic pathology, decides she needs to examine the remains.  McPherson examines the door, taking samples in the hopes of figuring out exactly what the "red liquid" Van Helsing used a century earlier to seal it.  In claiming the remains, the group finds something else pinned to the decaying gown...the silver and jet "Westenra Brooch."

Lacey has a London contact, a coroner named Parsev Singh.  She convinces him to let her use an examining room and takes the remains there with McPherson.  Reid and Richter head back to their London base of operations to catch up on some rest and pursue another lead; they have managed to make initial contact with Oliver Prenger, the husband of the dossier's last custodian, "Hopkins."  They came across each other as both parties were investigating the same leads.  Reid and Richter decide to set up a meeting.

In the lab, parallel discoveries are made.  The stake driven through Laura's chest was not wood, but iron.  The red liquid used to seal the tomb was also iron.  Further analysis shows this isn't just any iron, this is extremely rare telluric iron.  Given the weird electrical phenomena the team saw in Berlin, it gets them thinking about Faraday cages.

Reid and Richter, meanwhile, meet with Prenger at a cafe near the British Museum.  Prenger is a special secretary to House of Lords MP Philip Douglas, descendent of "Arthur Holmwood" and the current Lord Drumlanrig.  "Hopkins" was really Andrew Miller, an MI6 analyst and Russia specialist.  Prenger is convinced the Russians have something to do with his husband's disappearance.

The conversation opens all sorts of questions; how did "Hopkins" get the dossier?  What is the Russian connection?  Is this recent, or does it go back to "Cushing" and the 1977 fiasco?  More to the point...which came first; did "Hopkins" get the dossier first and then seek out and seduce a man who just happened to be secretary to one of the 1894 legacies, or was it an innocent coincidence?  They discretely don't share this later bit with Prenger.

After regrouping, the team splits again.  The two CIA agents decide to construct a Faraday cage while Reid and Richter set up a second meeting with Prenger, this time at a pub.  While Mickelson and McPherson construct the cage, Lacey starts to confide in him her disturbing dreams and the growing fear she has that Dracula is invading her mind.  When the cage is finished, they try an experiment and put Lacey inside it.  After a flash of blinding headache pain, her connection with Dracula is severed by the cage and complete free of influence, gushes out all that has been happening to her and pleads for help.

Across town at the pub, a second meeting with Prenger is cut short when Reid and Richter realize Prenger has been followed.  In the middle of the bar one of the suspects slides a knife into Prenger's side to silence him.  Richter opens fire and takes down both, but before the surviving assailant can be questioned he kills himself with cyanide.  As they fled the club, they notice a black limousine parked across the street.  Watching them from the back is a beautiful blonde woman in white, wearing dark sunglasses.  The car drives off as things heat up...

Friday, July 28, 2017

THE DRACULA DOSSIER: DAYS OF DISHONORABLE PEACE

The following is a summary of sessions one to three of an ongoing Dracula Dossier campaign.  While this is my individual campaign, with my own take on vampires, Dracula, and the events of the Stoker novel, it does draw heavily on Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan's excellent game.  If you have not bought and read these books, do.  Possible spoilers ahead.

BERLIN, 2016 (Episode 1)

In Kreuzberg, a joint operations team consisting of CIA agent William McPherson, MI6 operative Douglas Reid, and BND officer Saskia Richter have set up an observation post to monitor a suspected ISIS terrorist cell.  Hiding among Syrian refugees, there is mounting evidence that the cell has managed to smuggle sarin gas into the nation, and that an attack may me imminent.  The agents are working to verify this before sending in a strike team to shut the cell down.

The problem is, the intelligence doesn't add up.

The Cyprus-based shipping company used to bring in the sarin, for example, has ties to Bashar al-Assad's government, which itself has been known to use sarin gas.  Why would an ISIS cell be working with the Assad government?  There are other irregularities, suggesting another faction--an outside player--might be involved.

Once the presence of the gas is positively confirmed, the team decides it cannot delay any longer.  A strike team is assembled, and under the cover of darkness, prepares to go in.

Things immediately begin to go pear-shaped.  An unseasonal fog comes out of nowhere, obscuring vision.  One by one, electronic monitoring systems start to malfunction and go down.  And someone--or something--starts picking off the strike team with ease.

The operatives themselves go in.  In the darkness and the fog, they encounter a black-clad paramilitary force, soldiers that display uncanny strength and speed.  The one in the lead is unmasked, a pale man with thick, unruly hair and a thick mustache.  He attacks with a knife.  Bullets do not seem to affect him.   Agent Richter is killed, while McPherson and Reid barely manage to escape the scene with their lives.

In the wake of this, the sarin gas is released, killing more than seventy people in neighborhood and causing an international scandal when CIA and MI6 involvement is leaked.  The surviving agents are burned; McPherson goes underground and Reid goes back to his cabin in the Scottish Highlands.

But the events of Berlin reach out to them both.

EIGHT MONTHS LATER...

McPherson finds himself receiving encrypted emails, both to his burner phone and his laptop.  A figure calling himself "Hopkins" claims to know the truth of what went down in Berlin, and hints at a conspiracy far bigger than ISIS or Assad.  The emails direct McPherson to a bus station locker, where inside is a century-old dossier, along with information gathered by Hopkins, suggesting a link between the events in this dossier and an 1888 group of Masonic occultists calling themselves the Golden Dawn.  Hopkins jokingly refers to McPherson as "Jackman" now, and suggests that while he has been forced into hiding for fear for his life, he will do what he can to aid Jackman and his team from the shadows now.  The Dracula Dossier--and the terrible burden that comes with it--is theirs, now.

Meanwhile, at his cabin in the Highlands, Douglas Reid receives a visit from a strange eight-year-old girl.  She is Luna Richter, Saskia's little sister.  While Saskia had made a passing reference to her sister possessing strange "abilities" back in Berlin, Reid didn't pay much attention.  He is forced to now.  The girl, a psychic, seems to have all of the memories--even skills--of her older sister.  It is as if Saskia's brutal murder transferred the whole of her knowledge to her telepathic sibling.  When McPherson shows soon after, and brings the dossier with him, the Berlin team is re-assembled.  They decide to pursue the conspiracy hinted at in the dossier, and find the truth of what happened to them in Berlin.

WHITBY, 2017 (Session 2)

The trio decide to drive south to Whitby, where Dracula made his landing in Britain.  This was his starting point, and thus they decide to make it theirs.  Along the way, McPherson is tracked down by his old CIA partner, Lacey Mickelson.  Taking a leave of absence, she has pursued McPherson to find out the truth behind the Agency burning him.  As the trio arrive in Whitby, Lacey confronts them, and McPherson decides to bring her in.

Though she is skeptical, she agrees to help.  After taking in the "Dracula Experience," an obvious tourist trap, they explore the old town, focusing on the locations described in the dossier.  Hoping to discover the actual names and identities of the 1894 primaries, they track down the tax and residential records for the Crescent in the 1890s.  This is where Lucy Westenra and her mother had their Whitby summer home.  They come across one Amelia Wexford, and her daughter Laura.  The background information suggests Laura Wexford is almost certainly the real life "Lucy Westenra."

With this name secure, the team begins a massive Internet search or any and all available records, slowly piecing together the identities of the 1894 network.

Lucy Westenra/Laura Wexford: A nineteen-year old socialite who died of "heart failure" shortly after her engagement.  There isn't much remarkable about Laura, but the discovery of her name and identity leads the team to the rest of the network.



Arthur Holmwood/Alexander Douglas, Viscount Drumlanrig: In 1894 Laura was engaged to Alexander Douglas, the son of Viscount Drumlanrig (a business partner of Laura'a father, Chester).  When Laura died, Douglas inherited her estate (including her home in Hampstead, Wallingham) just as the dossier describes. Shortly thereafter, Alexander's father died in a mysterious hunting accident and Douglas inherited his title.



Mina Harker/Genevieve "Gina" Harper, née Malcolm: Tracking down the famous "Mina Harker" is achieved by searching for Laura Wexford's school records.  Genevieve Malcolm leaves London in 1894 for the continent, and returns Genevieve Harper (providing the next link in the chain).




Jonathan Harker/James Harper:  From his marriage to Genevieve Malcolm, and his passing of the bar exam just a year earlier, tracking down "Harker" presents little difficulty. There is not much on the young solicitor, however, especially after 1894.  More disconcerting is the fact that he was employed by one Peter Hawkins...the same name used by Stoker (who changed all the others).  This suggests that "Peter Hawkins" was itself a cover identity, and that Stoker may not have known his genuine name.



Kate Reed/Catherine Cook: Laura's school records turn up the other classmate as well, Catherine Cook, daughter of Westminster Gazette founder and editor Edward Cook.  A journalist, she fits the description in the dossier.  Tracking down the society page articles she herself wrote (and mentioned in the dossier) leads to both Seward and Morris...



Quincey P Morris/Quincey Adams: The colorful "Texan" of the novel was nothing of the sort.  The son of John Quincey Adams II and great grandson of President John Quincey Adams, Quincey Adams was a close friend of the young Viscount Drumlanrig.  His assignment as an "attache" of the American Ambassador to the Court of St. James is concealed in the dossier, and suggests a connection to American intelligence.



Jack Seward/Dr Jonathan Sievers: Sievers and the Viscount Drumlanrig apparently met in the British Army in Suakin, 1885.  Douglas was 20, Sievers was 24.  Sievers returned from duty "shell shocked," and took up work as a police coroner in London.  In 1890, his father passed away, leaving his son a private mental hospital in Plaistow.  Sievers changes his practice to psychiatric medicine.



Abraham Van Helsing/Albert Wilhelm Van Renterghem:  This Dutch spiritualist, psychiatrist, and hypnotist was an associate and friend of Sievers's father, and took the younger doctor under his wing.  A highly respected physician, he took a sabbatical from his work in Amsterdam in 1894, possibly placing him in London.  

(Note: As of this writing, the team has yet to ascertain the identities of Renfield, Aytown, or Cotford)

With these leads, the team decides to make their next stop London, to track down key sites connected to the disastrous 1894 operation. 

LONDON, 2017 (Session 3)

Concerned that their research may have sent up red flags with the opposition--whomever and whatever that might be--the quartet rents a car and travels to London by circuitous routes, using AirBNB to rent a home in Plaistow, near Plaistow Park.  Their research indicates that Siever's asylum, and Carfax, were once located here.

They settle into the small home and set up operations there.  In the beginning they have no greater difficulty than an over solicitous neighbor across the street.  McPherson scouts the neighborhood and discovers a large Eastern European community a few blocks away, including a Romanian father and his London-born daughter running a convenience store.  McPherson uses his impersonation skills to blend in and pass himself off as a fellow immigrant.

But there is a growing sense of being watched as the team further investigates the London locations and draws plans to investigate them.  McPherson--perhaps paranoid--has the sense of being followed and turns to see rats in the street.  Lacey, meanwhile, begins to experience disturbing dreams in which a dark figure comes into her room and interrogates her.  Luna, the psychic, spends the night monitoring her and indeed confronts a dark presence.  

There are other signs as well, but the team presses on.  They pinpoint the location of Laura Wexford's home, Wallingham, in Hampstead, as well as her burial place in nearby Highgate Cemetery (the dossier fictionalizes this as "Kingstead," but records show this is where Laura was buried).  They also locate Siever's former asylum...now an NHS Hematology Treatment and Research Center.  McPherson asks around and discovers the place has a shadowy reputation; heavily policed, there are rumors of people disappearing.

The team decides to stick with Laura.  Under the cover of darkness, they penetrate Highgate and locate the Wexford tomb.  There are signs of recent entry.  




Inside, it is much as the dossier describes, including the sarcophagus of Laura Wexford itself.  As they begin to open this, Luna Richter begins having enigmatic visions; clocks, the sea, the number four.  Only once they have opened the casket does she understand; someone has placed an explosive device her with a timer and C-4.  They have seconds before it explodes...





  










Monday, July 17, 2017

VEINS OF THE EARTH: A REVIEW

Prior to May 25th, 1977, Dungeons of Dragons was a weird little cocktail, a Long Island Ice Tea mixed up from literary influences like Tolkien, Leiber, Moorcock, Anderson, Howard, and Vance, with a dash of Vietnam to give it bite.  It was a brutal, trippy, occasionally nightmarish little thing.  Then came Star Wars.  In the wake of the Lucasfilm hijacking of fantasy and science fiction, D&D became increasingly more cinematic, more heroic, and more a clearly delineated struggle between Good and Evil. 

I've written about Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing before.  The game is a James Raggi-led campaign to take D&D style roleplaying back to those gritty, weird roots.  With Old School mechanics dialing up the lethality, and atmospheric writing establishing the grim, eerie mood of the game, one of the most striking elements of the game has been the published settings.  All turn sharply away from the high fantasy, Light versus Dark worlds so characteristic of D&D.  

There was, for example, Geoffrey McKinney's divisive and controversial Carcosa, set on the world first mentioned by Ambrose Bierce and later more extensively in Robert Chamber's The King in Yellow.  Pretty much absorbed into the Cthulhu Mythos, this was a setting of weird science, Lovecraftian gods, and nary an elf or dwarf in sight.  The vividly described sorcerous rituals were a turn-off for many, with elements such as ritualized rape, dismembering, and child sacrifice.  Less controversial, but no less weird and wonderful was the Zak S. offering A Red & Pleasant Land.  This presented the land of Voivodja, a "Wonderland" beyond the looking glass ruled by vampiric dynasties (the Red King and the Pale King, the Queen of Hearts and the Colorless Queen) whose sorcerous warfare had turned the realm into a madhouse of chaos and horror.  With inhabitants like the Cheshire Cat, Jabberwock, and the Hatter, Voivodja made even the eerie Wonderland of the Burton films look cheery.  Mention must also be made of Kenneth Hite's Qelong, a setting inspired by Southeast Asian mythology.  Fought over by two "barely conceivable beings" this land has also been filled with horror and madness.  If you are seeing a pattern here; good.  The worlds of Weird Fantasy Role-Playing are not showcases for the struggle between Good and Evil, but rather terrifying arenas in which characters struggle for survival and sanity.

Which brings us at last to Veins of the Earth.


The Underworld isn't a new idea, it's one of the oldest known to man, and it is a staple of both mythology and fantasy roleplaying.  The word "dungeon" is, after all, the first "D."  We are all used to adventures underground.  But Patrick Stuart's spellbindingly written setting book, hauntingly illustrated by Scrap Princess, has a sort of weird alchemy to it that fuses Moria, Virgil's Underworld, Neil Marshall's The Descent, and the terrifying endless labyrinth of House of Leaves.  This is a fantasy world, a fantasy universe, right below our feet.  Where mundane, terrestrial mines and caves end, the Veins of the Earth begin, and woe to the adventurer who crawls into them.  For here "the frightful bulk of night, feebly pushed aside for a moment, as quickly, and with an irresistible violence, regains empire."  You leave the world of daylight behind for "the deeper, more true world...bordered only by light above and fire below, and perhaps not even that."  The entire setting is an endless maze of lightless tunnels and caverns, stretching out for infinity and populated by entities banished from the sane world of light and reason.

This is poetic--and to be certain it is never very clear if the Veins are literally in the Earth or an extradimensional space altogether--but the setting also brings very real concerns to bear.  Darkness rules the Veins, absolute and total, making light the most precious commodity in this underworld.  While there may be places lit by bioluminescent fungi or magic, do not expect this.  It is not the norm.  Running the setting, GMs need to adopt a whole new vocabulary.  "You walk into a room" will not work.  How, if you cannot see, do you know it is a room?  Stuart suggests learning to limit your descriptions to "you see" and bearing in mind how few meters ahead the player characters really can see.  Couple this with the fact that many of these tunnels will involve climbing, squeezing, or crawling...that there is always the very real danger of a sudden chasm in the blackness ahead.  There are detailed and surprisingly realistic 3D cave and tunnel generating systems in the book for just this.


There are other very practical rules as well.  Encumbrance becomes a serious concern when slithering throw very narrow passages, and where does the water and food come from ?  In case you run short, there are some charming rules for cannibalism.  And without light, measuring time has to be done differently.  There are no days and nights, just the endless dark. This all tends to make claustrophobia and madness very real threats.  Veins of the Earth is filled with well-thought out goodies like this.

But this is also a weird fantasy game, and in the absolute darkness, magic and horror flow deep.  There are civilizations down there; the AElf-Adal are a terrifying cross between the Unseelie and the Drow, fae beings born from human dreams and nightmares that still require madness and terror to survive.  Long ago, they were driven from the surface by the very humans they used as psychic cattle, and now they hate humanity as much as they hunger for it.  There are the Deep Janeen, solitary elemental beings of terrible power.  The dErO resemble the UFO conspiracy Greys, and the dwarven Dvagir are a race obsessed with perfecting themselves, a process they associate with Ascent.  The first of their kind emerged from the Core, and they have been working their way up ever since.  The Substratals are Lovecraftian/demonic earth elementals, and the Gnomen are perhaps the least threatening, a race that values and treasures life above all else in the cruelty of the dark.  

Aside from these are monsters, a great many of them, many original and terrifying (think fossils that claw their way out of the stone hungry for the flesh and blood they lost and can never again have).  These just add to the value of the book, either as an utterly unique and terrifying setting, or as a grab bag of ideas to add to your own games and campaigns.


Veins of the Earth completely re-imagines the way we look at the dungeon in ways never really seen before, and is yet another example of the outside-of-the-box thinking that makes so much of Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing a dark jewel of a game.  Use it to add deeper, darker levels to your dungeons, as a particularly grim Land of the Lost into which characters are thrown and struggle to escape back up into the light, or as a sourcebook for inspiration.  With high production values, lyrical and evocative writing, and disturbing illustrations, no one with a taste for weird fiction will be disappointed by it.    

                

Monday, July 10, 2017

TURN UP THE DRAMA: THE TORG DRAMA DECK FOR THE CYPHER SYSTEM

90s RPG titan TORG is making a comeback via Kickstarter. While that is great news, that old Drama Deck you've got lying around is already the perfect tool to spice up your Cypher System combats, whether you are Storm Running in the Possibility Wars or playing in any other cinematic setting.  Try it in Numenera to give the game a more "Star Wars" feel, in The Strange to make that game even more TORG-like, or any other Cypher game where you want a Hollywood summer blockbuster feel.  So dig out those decks and read on.


The Basics

This Cypher System rules variation uses the old TORG drama cards to recreate the ebb and flow of action commonly found in adventure stories and films. First, the GM deals a hand of cards to each player character equal to the number of Cyphers the character can bear. The rest of the cards are placed into a pile on the table, aka "the Drama Deck." When cards are discarded they are placed face up into the discard pile to the side of the Drama Deck. When cards are flipped by the GM they are placed in front of the deck in the Action Stack

During normal scenes, when the player characters are searching a room, discussing amongst themselves, etc., time passes about the same rate in game as it does in real life. At these times, cards may be played at any time during the scene.

During a scene that involves a chase, combat, or other conflict, action is divided into rounds.

During a scene with rounds, only one card may be played each round. Each round the gamemaster flips a card from the drama deck and places it on the action stack. Even if the action is not combat and is not proceeding in 10-second incriments, the gamemaster might still flip cards to mark the beats and to regulate the amount of action each character performs in a given part of the scene. The cards affect the flow of the action by giving initiative to one side or another, and by introducing additional dramatic elements. The cards have text which explains many of their functions.




Standard Versus Dramatic Scene



The GM sets the tone of a scene depending upon how important the scene is to the story. Ordinary scenes are called standard scenes. In a standard scene, the player characters have the edge; the pace is quick and the action fast. In a dramatic scene, your party is faced with a tough situation or conflict central to the story. The cards are stacked against you -- only clever play, good cards, or luck will save the day. The pace is slower and more intense, as there is more at stake and the odds are greater.

Initiative And Advantage

The card on top of the action stack determines which side of a conflict has initiative and what advantages or disadvantages, if any, the sides have. The deck assumes there are two sides to any conflict: the hero side, consisting of player characters and their allies, and the villain side, which is composed of all of the characters opposed to the heroes. If the action includes true neutrals, those who are simply caught in the way, they are lumped with the heroes for card purposes.

The faction listed on the left half of the encounter line has the initiative. An H stands for hero and V for villain. Any other advantages, disadvantages, or instructions are listed next to the appropriate faction.

A faction can have one of the following advantages: flurry, inspiration, or up. A faction can have one of the following disadvantages: break, confused, fatigue, stymied, or setback. A —- means that no advantage or disadvantage is in effect.


Conflict Line Advantages/Disadvantages

The dramatic text above the conflict line (“They’re on the run!”) is included for flavor, and has no effect on play.

Flurry: Each character gets 2 rounds of action before the other side can react.

Inspiration: Heroes get an instant free recovery roll (d6+Tier) and add these points to any depleted pools.  Villains get their Level back in Health.

Up: All get a free Asset to any and all rolls (in addition to any other Assets), essentially lowering all Difficulties one level that round.

Break: Villains only. Damaged characters who fail to hit will flee.

Confused: No player may activate a card from her pool.

Fatigued: All characters take 3 points of "shock" damage, due to fatigue, stress, or similar depletion.

Setback: Triggers a free GM Intrusion against heroes (no experience points).

Stymied: All Difficulty levels for the characters are raised by one.  For villains, the heroes get a free Asset to resist actions taken against them.

Taunt, Test, Trick, and/or Intimidate: If villain succeeds in a skill use, may remove card(s) from opponent's pool.

Your Hand

The cards dealt into your hand are separate from the rest of the drama deck. Ignore the part of each card with the H and V Conflict Lines; you are interested only in the half  which gives you advantages over your opponents by increasing a skill value or bonus, or by allowing you to “break the rules” in some specific way.  These cards are, essentially, Subtle Cyphers, and replace Cyphers in games using the Drama Deck.  Player characters may play these cards directly from their hand, at any time during any scene. Note to TORG players that this adaptation does not embrace the idea of "card pools," one of the changes made to fuse the Drama Deck with the Subtle Cyphers of standard Cypher System rules.

Approved Actions

During each combat round, there are at least two actions that are designated as “Approved Actions.” If a character succeeds at an approved action, the player draws a card. If a villain succeeds at an approved action (certain conflict lines allow them to initiate approved actions for this purpose), the player affected by the approved action loses a card. Each action can only result in the gain of one card per round, but a character can earn multiple cards if he or she does multiple approved actions. If the conflict line allows “Any” approved action, a character can gain a card for each standard action category (Attack, Defend, Maneuver, Trick, Test, Taunt, Intimidate, Other).

Attack/Defend: These are fairly self explanatory.  Any successful attack or defense against attack earns a card.

Maneuver: The character forgoes any action this round to move into a better position.  This usually will require a Speed roll against the opponent's level.  With a success, the character earns an extra Asset against his or her opponent the next round.

Trick/Test/Taunt/Intimidate: The character outwits, stares down, harangues, or threatens his opponent in lieu of any other action.  Trick can be an Intellect or Speed action that somehow fools or deceives the opponent.  Test of Wills is a steely eyed stare-down (an Intellect action).  Taunt is another Intellect action, but this time designed to enrage the opponent via verbal barrage, rude gestures, etc.  Intimidate can be a Might, Speed, OR Intellect action depending on how the character choses to frighten his opponent.  In all cases, roll the action against the opponent's level, adding in any appropriate Skills or Assets.  Success stymies NPC opponents the next round; player characters, however, lose a card from their hands.      

Dramatic Resolution

The only time two uses from a single card affect the game at the same time is when a card is placed on the action stack during a conflict, and dramatic resolution is also in effect. Use both the upper and middle parts of the card in this case.

In most situations, you will want to resolve an action or Test in a single roll. But there are times when it is desirable for the sake of drama to stretch out the resolution, to introduce tension that is not possible in single roll.

For example, disarming a bomb falls could be done in a single roll. This misses the point, though, of disarming a bomb in a story; if that bomb was a important element in a movie, a considerable amount of screen time could be devoted to defusing it. For this reason, at such moments we prefer to use dramatic resolution.

A dramatic resolution breaks down the use of a single action into four steps, labeled A through D. As GM you decide, preferably in advance, what each step repersents when preforming the task. You also need to define what the difficulty of the action is. Each step of a dramatic  resolution has that difficulty.

In a round a character may only attempt the steps that are listed on the top card of the action stack. To succeed at a dramatic skill resolution, a caracter must succeed at step A,B,C and D in that order. Succeeding at each step requires a die roll.

Bad Things Can Happen

Not only can dramatic actions take time, but things can make a character's life harded along the way. These include Possible Setback, Complication, and Critical Problem. Each of these effects occurs when listed, if the character fails his skill roll for that round.If he susseeds, he does not gain a step, but there is no penalty.

Possible Setback: Failing when a Possible Setback appears causes the character to lose a step. If he had been on step C, something causes the character to slip back to step B: step C must be repeated.

Complication: A Complication makes life more difficult. Failing the die during a Complication round adds 1 Level to the difficulty of all further rolls for this action.

Critical Problem: Failing a die roll during a Critical Problem round is real trouble: now the character must use another skill to accomplish the task, or attack the problem from a new angle ( which would mean starting over from step A). The player is responsible for figuring out the new skill or course of action: if it does not sound convincing, he must try a different task next round.

Losing Cards

Enemy action can actually remove cards from your pool through tricks, tests, and taunts used by the villains. If a villain successfully uses one of these skills on your character, the gamemaster may remove one of the cards from your hand. 

Trading Cards

Players may trade eligible cards with other players on a one-for-one basis, and may make as many trades as they wish, but only with players whose characters are in the same “combat.” So if there is a combat in one room with a vampire, and another combat nearby with a werewolf, the players in each combat can trade with each other, but they can’t trade with people in the other combat. If the one group defeats the vampire, and then joins the fight with the werewolf, they can then start trading with the players already there.

Replenishing You Hand

At the end of each scene, and at the end of each combat that occurs in the middle of a scene, the characters undergo the hand reset. The player is dealt enough cards to replenish his or her hand back up the maximum number.  This happens at the end of combat; in combat, the only way to replenish cards is to attempt approved actions.  


Card Descriptions

There are three types of cards that don't count against your hand total.  Once received, they must be immediately played.  The exception is the Subplot card, which may be immediately discarded rather than played if the player doesn't wish to activate it.  Once played, these cards remain on the table until they are used, or until the end of the adventure. These three types of cards are Alertness cards, Connection cards, and Subplot cards.

Alertness

This card allows a player to notice an otherwise unnoticed fact, clue, etc. It must be played immediately, face up on the table.  The effect of this card usually ends once the card activates. Alertness does not count against your hand total.

Connection

This card allows a player to find another character in the area who can help out in a situation. It is up to the gamemaster to determine who the connection is and what help is available. Again, this Subplot usually ends when the card activates.

Subplots

When a player plays a Subplot card, it immediately goes face-up on the table.  If a player does not want the Subplot to take effect, he or she may discard it. Likewise, a gamemaster may feel a specific Subplot is inappropriate, and order it discarded, giving the character an XP as compensation. If it is appropriate, the character earns one XP at the end of every act in which the Subplot influences the story.  Subplots are, essentially, ongoing intrusions. Subplots end when the adventure ends unless a Campaign card is played.

Campaign: This card can only be played by a character with an active Subplot in effect. It allows the Subplot to influence other adventures beyond the current one.

Martyr: This Subplot allows a character to prepare for his or her death, and at the appropriate moment, sacrifice his or her life to achieve a party goal with automatic success. It is important to remember that the character with this subplot in effect does not have to sacrifice his life, it is simply an option when all else fails. However, if you have this subplot in play and do not use it, you forgo an experience award that session (though experience is still gained by Intrusions).

Mistaken Identity: This Subplot causes a character to make a mistake about another person’s identity.

Nemesis: This Subplot causes a character to acquire a nemesis, who will take special attention to the character.

Romance: This card introduces a romantic element into the story. It does not have to be reciprocated. Some of the more interesting story elements come from having someone having romantic feelings for a person who doesn’t notice what’s going on. 

Suspicion: This Subplot makes a character suspicious of another character’s actions or intentions.

True Identity: As above, but the suspected identity is true. True Identity can also mean that the character discovers something about him or herself. 

Action Cards

These cards replace "Subtle Cyphers."  Thus the character is only allowed to carry as many of them in his hand as his character type allows.

Action: This card acts as an additional Asset to any single roll, making any Level 1 Difficult task automatic.  More than one Action card can be played at once.

Adrenalin, Willpower and Presence: These cards are grouped together because they do the same thing, only for different classes of skills. They allow a character to add an Asset to any tests that round.  Adrenaline modifies Might and Speed tests, Willpower modifies Intellect tests, and Presence modifies Intellect tests for interpersonal uses (persuading, charming, intimidating, etc). Notice the modification lasts for the entire round. 

Coup de Grace: Increases the Damage inflicted by a character by 4 points...the equivalent of a natural 20.  Note this does not effect the actual die roll, it just adds extra damage or allows the character to trigger a Major Effect.  

Possibility Cards (Hero and Drama): The Hero card  replaces a die roll with an automatic result of 10, beating any Difficulty of 3 or less, or any Difficulty that has been lowered to 3 or less.  The Drama card works the same way, but is an automatic natural 20, with all attendant benefits.

Other Cards

Defiance: Grants an Asset to all skills and tests used to defend against 1 specific opponent until the end of the scene.

Escape: This card insures that the group can escape an encounter alive. 

Glory: If played after rolling a natural 20 for a key action during a dramatic scene, automatically grants a 1 XP award to all players.

Haste: Gives an extra action at any time during the round.

Hero Fails: This card cancels one of your successful actions in exchange for 1-3 XP, based on the severity of the failure.  

Idea: This card lets you ask about what course of action your characters should take. You will receive at least one useful idea about the next course of action.

Inspire: Use this card to trigger a free recovery roll (1d6+Tier level). 

Leadership: This card take the cards from your hand and give them to other players. You then draw cards to refill your hand.

Master Plan: You may exchange a Master Plan for the top card of the discard pile. 

Monologue: This card stops hostile actions while you make a dramatic speech. 

Opponent Fails: This card cancels an opponent’s action that was aimed at you. If the opponent aimed at multiple people, only the result against you is canceled.

Rally: This card allows all players in the combat to keep or discard any cards in their hands. Once all players have done so, they each draw until their hand is refilled.
Second Chance: This card lets you retry an action that has been ruled a failure.

Seize Initiative: May keep current card on the action stack for next round or immediately flip a new card onto the stack. 







Wednesday, May 10, 2017

IMAGINATION, POWER, AND THE NECESSITY OF CREATIVE PLAY

Looking down on empty streets, all she can see
Are the dreams all made solid
Are the dreams all made real
All of the buildings, all of those cars
Were once just a dream
In somebody's head


Peter Gabriel, "Mercy Street"


THE ABILITY TO REASON, to draw conclusions from observation and experience, has been crucial to the success of the human species.  Of this there can be little doubt.  But the flip side of reason, the ability to see the world "as it is," is the ability to see the world "as it might be."  This power, imagination, is one of our most extraordinary gifts.  It is not merely the source of our arts and cultures, but our technologies as well.  It lies close to the heart of what makes us--for now, at least--the dominant species on the planet.

Despite its power (or perhaps because of it), imagination tends to make people a bit nervous.  Like magic, a word to which it is related, imagination is at turns dismissed, trivialized, and condemned.  There is a sense that it must be restrained, sanctioned, quarantined.  We chuckle at it in children, but expect them to bridle it in adolescence and enter the "real world" (something I have written about here). We could argue this is due to its mercurial nature; imagination is often erratic and unpredictable, acting as an external muse rather than something we switch on and off like a coffee maker.  Imaginative work is a sort of dance, where the imagination acts as an equal partner rather than a subordinate.  As any artist will tell you, imagination needs to be wined and dined.  It can be controlled, but doing so cripples and eventually withers it.  To really let imagination do its thing, you have to be willing to let go. But most people only feel comfortable engaging with imagination in a limited, controlled way--such as by reading a novel, playing a video game, or watching a television program.  Actually unleashing it and allowing oneself to be carried away is usually left to artists...widely considered an odd bunch to begin with.

It's unfortunate that such attitudes exist, that people are afraid of letting their imaginations "run away with them."  It is also completely understandable.  At issue here is the nature of "power," and of society's attitudes towards it.

The beginning of despair lies in being unable to imagine anything better.  That leads to surrender.

There is a deep misunderstanding of what "power" is.  The word comes to us via French from the Latin potis, "to be able, capable," and is cousin to the English words potential and possibile.  There is a hint to its identity in this.  While we are generally taught that power is synonymous with "control," as in power "over" something, true power is the capacity to do and more importantly to create.  On some level we all understand this; Abrahamic faiths often refer to God, the Supreme Power, as the "Creator," and few aspects of human existence are treated with as much awe and sanctity as the power to create new human life.  Paradoxically we look askew at imaginative power, the power to create new ideas.  Indeed, it has often been said that the tragedies of history all stem from a lack of imagination.  It goes back to the obsession with control, and the desire by societies to control, regulate, and dictate the ideas that make up that particular culture.  When we talk about dictators wanting to control what people think, what we are really saying is that authoritarians want to control what people can imagine.  The beginning of despair lies in being unable to imagine anything better.  That leads to surrender.  In the interest of keeping control, those at the top of a society must limit the populace's ability to dream.

So very few of us then allow ourselves the experience of imagination as creative play.  This is tragic, because the imagination--like a muscle--only grows stronger with use.  Many of the same activities that lead to weakness of the body simultaneously lead to weakness of the imagination.  Sitting passively watching the latest big budget superhero film, the new season of Game of Thrones, or playing the most recent release of a favorite video game all seem to be exercises in imagination, but in reality these are mediums where all the imagining has already been done for you.  This benefits both authority and the entertainment industry--which like a drug dealer makes the public dependent on its product for "escape"--but does little to benefit the individual.  This is especially pernicious for children.  Where once they went outside to run and play, making up their own adventures and stories, today they remain indoors spoon-fed someone else's.

We end up in a situation, then, where people require re-education to do what should be completely natural for them.  No, not everyone should have equal imaginative capabilities, any more than we should all be able to lift the same amount or run just as fast, but we should all know at least how to sit down and make up stories, close our eyes and visualize, or engage in creative play without feeling self conscious about it.  Even reading--which like sex or dance is a creative pairing between two individuals, one providing the words and the other painting the images in his or her head--is becoming less common these days.  I have no doubt that this deterioration of imagination lies at the heart of many of the political movements we see these days, and I feel strongly enough about this to write an entire blog about it. 

...the key to a better life, for oneself, one's family, one's society, lies first in the ability to imagine one.

The connective tissue in all that I discuss here is imagination as creative play, a guilty pleasure that so many people have been taught to keep away from.  But the key to a better life, for oneself, one's family, one's society, lies first in the ability to imagine one.  This is the Promethean theft of fire from the gods.  It is the mercurial and awe inspiring heart of true magic. The first step in attaining this power is to allow oneself to go against oppressive norms and prohibitions intended to stifle it.  The road to freedom begins with allowing oneself to engage in the simple magic of childhood, to give oneself time to play.        




    

Thursday, May 4, 2017

ENOCHIAN MAGIC: THE CRY OF BAG, THE 28TH AETHYR

AS BEFORE I fell upwards through space, stars and worlds shooting past me.  Above me I saw a great orb of rose pink, surrounded by a burning corona of pale green fire.  I was pulled into this sphere, descending into delicate clouds of dawn pink.  

As the clouds parted I landed gently at the shore of a small, still pond, in the middle of a green wood.  Lily pads and pink lotus blossoms floated on the waters.  Crickets chirped, and dragonflies Flitted about.  It was twilight; in the west, through the trees, the sky was brilliant gold; overhead, rose pink clouds drifted.  Behind them I caught glimpses of the green fire, like the northern lights.  The air was still and heavy, humid, ripe with the scent of a thousand flowers.  Everywhere I heard the buzzing of insects.

Then I noticed the statue.  It stood in the center of this pond, an Isis figure of rose-colored marble, cradling the infant Horus in her lap.  

I waited a few moments at the edge of this pond, realizing the sun’s position had not changed.  This world seemed locked in eternal sunset.  I turned slowly around, looking at the shadowy silhouettes of the tree line and the velvet blue haze of the woods behind.  I saw that the pond was at the bottom of a great, bowl shaped depression, like an ancient crater.  I decided to see what was up along the rim.

I fought my way through the thick reeds and pussy willows that grew along the pond, and then ducked my head under the branches as I entered the trees.  Here I scrabbled up a slope covered in old pine needles.  Eventually I reached the edge of the rim, and my breath caught at the sight of a magnificent view.

The bowl shaped depression, it turned out, was the cauldron of a long extinct volcano.  I was standing then atop this high peak.  Under the bluish dark of twilight, I beheld beautiful mountain valleys, green with rich farmland and vineyards.  These shone green and gold in the fading light.  Jagged mountain peaks concealed the horizon, capped with snow.  Everything was verdant and lush.  It seemed to me it must be late summer, just before harvest time.

Suddenly, to my right, I heard a stealthy sound.  Peering through the trees I spotted a fawn with a pale brown coat dappled with white spots.  It emerged from the trees and paused at the head of a thin deer path, watching for me.  I understood it wished me to follow.

As I approached it started down the deer path into the valley below.  I followed it.  The course zig-zagged down the mountainside through the twilight forest, the tall trees looking to me like cedar.  Now and again the fawn would stop and look over its shoulder at me, to make sure I was keeping up.  Beneath the trees there was a thick carpet of ferns, tall enough that if I stepped off the deer path I might disappear into them.  So I stuck to the path and followed my guide.

We emerged at the bottom of the valley, at the edge of one of the fields.  To my right was a farmstead, a collection of single-story stone buildings with thatched roofs, surrounded by a low stone wall.  The fawn walked along the edge of this wall to a square gateway, two straight pillars with a lintel laying across them.  The lintel was inscribed with what looked to be Norse or Germanic runes.

The fawn turned to pass through this gate.  As she did, she underwent a startled transformation.  A little girl merged from under a fawnskin cloak, which she neatly folded and tucked under her arm.  She was eight or nine years old, with pale blonde hair in a long single braid.  Her skin was pale, eyes green, and she wore a simple dress of spotless white.  A crown of pink flowers encircled her head.  She gestured for me to follow, and passing under the arch I entered a paved courtyard.  The cobblestones were wet; I had the impression they had just been washed.  In the center of this courtyard was a well, and to my right was a stone and thatched cottage.  To my left was a barn.  At the opposite side was a small yard.

My name is SOMUE, I told her.  Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Love is the law, love under will, she replied.  My name is MIALO. (in Enochian 194, = to PARADIZ “young girl, virgin”)

Is this BAG, the 28th Aethyr?

It is.  She gestured across the courtyard and over to the yard.  Please follow me.  I will take you to Mother.

I nodded, following her into the yard.  To the left of the were stables, and I could see the heads of beautiful white horses with golden manes.  As we approached the yard I saw a small pond with white swans sailing on its surface.  Overhead, geese flew in a V formation.  There were apple trees, and at the far edge of the yard another low stone wall with the vineyards stretching out behind it.  

The most striking thing in this yard, however, was a white marble fountain.  A young satyr (faun) was pouring wine from an urn into the pool.  The fountain was carved with a motif of grapes and vines.

Behind the fountain, with her back to me, was a woman.  Like the girl she had white blonde hair in a long braid down her back.  On her head was a circlet of gold.  She wore a gauzy, pale green cloak over a long dress of rose pink.  When she turned towards me, i was startled.  She didn’t have a face.

This is Mother, the little girl told me.  I greeted the woman, but she did not—could not—answer.  Then the little girl dropped her fawn cloak on the grass and stepped forward to embrace the Mother.  The moment they touch the girl disappeared into the woman as if absorbed.  Now, the woman looked at me with a new face…Mialo’s, but older.  

Greetings SOMUE.  I am DIAFNE.

It seemed perfectly normal to her that she had just consumed her child in this way, so I nodded my head and collected my thoughts.  I have come to learn the nature of this Aethyr.  What can you teach me of it?

Nothing, she replied.

Nothing?

What I know cannot be communicated, only experienced.  She explained.  

I thought about this.  How?

She gestured for me to sit beside her on the edge of the fountain.  Taking up a heavy golden cup engraved with sporting fauns, dryads, and grapes, she dipped it into the pool of wine.  First drink this.

I took the cup.  The wine was deepest violet, spelling of fragrant spices.  A warning touched my heart.  How do I know I can trust you?

She stood and showed me the LVX signs.  At their conclusion, the clouds seemed to part on the horizon and shafts of golden light fell upon her.  I saw her gown was translucent, and beneath could make out her breasts and the curves of her body.  Suddenly, as I watched, she transformed.  Her garments faded and became pale white chased with golden threads.  Her skin became white marble.  Her eyes looked like amber stones, and her hair and eyelashes were golden threads.  She seemed to absorb the sunlight as she had the child, transforming into this goddess, a living statue of terrible beauty.

I drank the wine, feeling its warmth spread through me.  It seemed to concentrate especially between my thighs, and I felt a sudden intense arousal.

Knowledge of BAG can only be obtained by experience and union.  The formula is love.  Will you enter into me, Thelemite? 

To my great surprise, I felt a powerful desire to do this, a hot, all-consuming lust.  She undressed, letting her gown fall to the grass and then lay down across it, spreading her arms for me.  I immediately undressed as well, my eyes roaming her body.  It was perfectly smooth and white, gleaming faintly.  I lay atop her, eye to eye, and entered into her with a feeling of intense pleasure.

As we made love a curious thing started happening.  I felt her beneath me, felt myself inside her…but at the same time I felt from her point of view.  I felt my body lying on top of me, felt the pressure of me moving inside my body.  The shifting continued until I was her, and could no longer feel myself.  I was the woman making love to a stranger who looked like me.  

Orgasm approached,  and now my consciousness seemed evenly divided between two bodies.  I felt the build up to orgasm inside my body, and felt the energy mirrored in hers.  I felt myself giving and receiving pleasure.  In fact, I could no longer tell who I was any longer.  Sexual intercourse was happening but subject and object were blurred.  We were pure action and reaction, identity was gone.

Then there was a blinding white light, a sensation of warmth.  I seemed to be floating in a milky white light, warm, rainbow hued like pearl.  I had no idea who i was, what I was, where i was.  There was only Being.


Gradually, I seemed to condense, to become more and more “myself.”  It seemed I had a body again, an identity, an individuality.  I was floating naked in a pool of white, silky fluid, inside an amber colored vessel, egg-shaped.  I immediately understood I was in a womb of some sort.  Her womb.

Once I understood this, we became separate again.  She was standing fully clothed again before me, beside the fountain.  i was dressed as well, and dazed.

The formula of Love is the dissolution of the Ego, she said.  Love is Death, and simultaneous Birth.  The sperm and the egg die to become something new.  Salt dissolves into water, changing both.  Identities become lost to create something new.  You cannot truly love and remain the same person you were before.

All of this…is Venusian?  It was a feeble question and I was ashamed afterwards of asking it.  So far i was still struggling to understand a pattern to the Aethyrs, and it seemed to me TEX had been like Yesod, RII like Hod, and now BAG like Netzach.  

Here is the secret of Love and Death.  Of the Desire to Die.  The Pain of Pleasure.  If you see this as Venusian, so be it.  The Mystery to be learned is that Love and Death are the same.

Physical death, the end of life…is Love?

She nodded.  Like the sperm merging with the egg what you are is changed, not lost.  What you did, how you acted, the information of your existence remains embedded in the Universe, which was changed by your presence in it.  There can be no death for those who truly live.

 I considered what she was saying.  This is beyond communication?

Communication requires division, separation.  Union erases these.  Love is that Union.  You are required to know this, ‘Secretum Operis Magni Unitas Est.’

She turned her gaze and gestured back towards the courtyard and the gate.  It is time for you to leave.  You know what you need for the road ahead of you.  She handed me a pink lotus blossom.  Take this as a reminder.

I accepted the gift and made my goodbyes.  From the woman, MIALO emerged again, as a fawn once more.  She led me out of the gate and back up the deer path.  As we ascended, and finally reached the rim, I realized it was no longer sunset but dawn.  The sun was on the eastern horizon, in the same twilight.  


I left the fawn and descended back into the bowl-like depression.  As I entered the reeds around the pond, the vision ended.