Tuesday 17 April 2018

Red World Press opens its doors, and versamus is put to rest...

Hey folks, versamus is shutting down, but have no fear, I'm still creating content! Now you can find everything that was here, and that would have gone here, over on my new website redworld.press!

Everything on this archive will remain, but after today, it won't be updated here any more.

It's been a wild ride, and I hope you continue it with me over at our new home.

Friday 2 February 2018

Terrible Cults in 3 Steps

Yesterday I talked about the first of two super-simple techniques I have for prepping WFRP (or indeed any RPG with weird, uncanny encounters). Today, I'll talk about the second.

The best way I know to make a setting creepy, uncanny, and also humorous, is to use cults. Cults are a fantastic framing device: They allow us to distil ideologies, emotions, or even personality traits into a single organisation. That is very powerful, for a GM, and a great framing device for the other players to see the setting.

And just like yesterday, I have 3 easy steps to create cults.

Step #1 - Think of something mundane, yet important

E.g. Salmon migrate from the ocean, upstream, to spawn in the upper reaches of rivers.

It's best to think of something that the average person in your setting would notice and would care about. Aspects of the world that have conflict (supposed or real), or that are important phenomena. In the above example, when the salmon come to migrate, they would be much easier to catch, meaning there would be much more food available.

Step #2 - Make a reasonable, but incorrect, leap in logic

E.g. Salmon migrate to the rivers because they're running from a monster that wakes up in the oceans, annually.

Here, if there isn't already conflict in the idea, add it. Preferably one with agency behind it. Something does something else to the focus. This leap in logic should attempt to explain the phenomenon in ways that the average lay person could rationalise and agree with... Imagine a cultist attempting to recruit new followers: How would they use this leap in logic to sway new folks into their line of thinking? The more reasonable the leap, the better. But also remember, the more tension and drama in the leap, the more compelling it will be, and the more people will want to believe it.

Also, don't be afraid of making utterly ridiculous leaps in logic - even ones that everyone in the setting has already put to bed. Consider how widely prevalent the Flat Earth Society is in our modern day, and the arguments they make to support their fallacy (and the arguments that their recruiters make to gain more of a following). In fact, the Flat Earth Society is a fantastic example of a modern cult. They're well worth studying for the GM's toolbox (and for a laugh, and perhaps a cry, if you need it).

Step #3 - Make a further leap in logic, based off the first, that leads to an actionable step

E.g. If we eat better when the salmon are upriver, and the salmon go upriver because the ocean monster is awakened every year, we need to keep the monster awake constantly so that the salmon never leave!

Now we've got a cult that parade on the beaches with pots and pans, banging them together to keep the ocean monster awake...

This step is best done when the actionable step is simple enough that any lay folk could do it, without dedicating their entire lives to it. However, it should also have room to grow for some kind of extreme cult... Whilst the cultists convince the lay folk to bang on pots and pans, the upper echelons of the cult are working on a giant whirlpool machine, so that they can cause the ocean to be constantly in rapid motion, to keep the ocean monster awake forever!

You can even run this system several times on the one idea, repeating steps 2 & 3 over and over again, on the same premise. This is a great way to get sects within a cult, or to create conflicting yet equally ridiculous ideas.

This system works well to create anything from dangerous blood cults to silly folk-practices and superstitions.

Thursday 1 February 2018

"WFRP Weird" in 3 Steps

As you may know, I love WFRP. It's no great secret. I've been running it for years - coming up on a third of my life, actually...which is concerning.

In that time, I've developed two super-simple methods for prepping content. This is the first one: How to make encounters "WFRP Weird" in 3 steps.

What is "WFRP Weird?" You know... Smelling colours. Tasting anxiety. Hearing the itch of recognition pass between two people who've never met. Witnessing the echo of horrors past.

"WFRP Weird" is how you know something has gone WRONG in WFRP. It's how you know Chaos is afoot. It's how you know, without even looking at the sky, if it's Geheimnisnacht or not.

So, what are the 3 steps?

Step #1 - Think of something that would normally happen

E.g. A man walking down the road. This is as vanilla as it gets, folks. Literally nothing weird or even remotely interesting about this.

This step is best done when you think of something boring-as-hell. Think of the most mundane thing you can. The terror of the uncanny comes about when it should be fine, but it isn't.

Step #2 - Put it in a situation where it normally wouldn't be

E.g. In the dead of night, shrouded in mist, along the haunted cobblestone streets of Praag, far to the north. Ok, this is a little weird. Folks don't go walking around Praag at night - ESPECIALLY not alone.

For this step, try to think of a situation where the thing could happen, but if it occurred to you in the real world, you'd be unnerved, or at least, on edge.

Step #3 - Subvert some expectation about what would normally happen, in a way that couldn't exist

E.g. No matter how much the man walks away from you, or towards you, he never gets closer. No matter how much you approach him, or walk away from him, he never gets further away. No amount of light shone on him seems to illuminate him beyond a simple silhouette, out on the darkened street...

For this step, I like to think of the common methods we would use in the real world to dispel our fear or anxiety over the situation. We see some weird dude on the street. Our instincts would be to a) approach him to get a better look, b) walk away so we don't have to deal with him, or c) try to get more information about him from where we are, so we can make a better decision.

Next, make all (or many) of them impossible, or have them yield even more uncanny results.

And that's it! A simple way to add uncanny and "WFRP Weird" encounters to your game.

Note that the examples are heavily inspired by an encounter in Realm of the Ice Queen's Praag section, written by Steve Dee. I used this exact encounter many times during my own Praag campaign, Shadows Within Shadows. I think my players are still scared of The Man, Darkly.

Sunday 7 January 2018

The Gift of Light & Vision—An Astrorotica Short Story

Its fur flashed, cycling through turquoise, lime-green, then a colour I can't quite describe; "magenta sunrise" comes to mind.

Captain Vuvaxath's suit flashed in turn—small lights embedded into the pressurised exoskeleton. It was quick, and I barely made them out. Two scarlet lines running the length of her body, and a single tan-beige pulsing from her ankles to her knees.

The creature looked at me with its large black eyes—like staring into the "empty" parts of space, which promise you'll see light if you just go far enough. It was utterly alien. On Earth, before everything, we had creatures called quokkas. It was like that, except upright, and in place of its hind legs was a thick tail that sprouted rows of caterpillar-like legs. Its fur—translucent over ash-grey skin—emitted colour and light in strange patterns. It lacked a mouth, and had only the suggestion of a nose.

It flashed at me, the same pattern it had flashed at the captain. I didn't flash in response—I didn't have anything to flash with. I switched my vocaliser on, but didn't say anything. I couldn't see any ears on the thing.

The captain looked at me, laughed silently—her suit cutting off the noise I'd grown to love—and turned back to the creature. Orange, like the part of a flame just after the clear, flashed along her stomach, moving up through to her arms, and ending as a brazen-brass colour at her wrists. This repeated twice, the second time much faster.

The creature flashed rose-pink three times. The captain laughed silently. I couldn't hold it, and I laughed as well, my vocaliser spilling it onto the silent planet.

That was the first time I shared a joke with someone who couldn't hope to speak my language, nor I theirs. I'm still not sure what we were laughing at.

~From the Log of Navigator Iwani M'Bala.

Astrorotica is a tabletop RPG I'm in the process of writing, about a far-flung future where humans have discovered a galaxy at peace, without the need or urge for violence, where the only hill left to climb is the tyranny of distance. This is a short story that will appear in the book.

The artwork that goes along with this post was made by Deven Rue (+Deven Rue) of RueInk.com. Please go and check out the site—Deven's work is fantastic.

Thursday 4 January 2018

On the Nature of Religion in Warhammer

The following article was inspired by a thread on /r/WarhammerRPG, concerning Orcs and why there seemingly aren't Chaos Orcs in the world. I had been thinking about this a lot recently, due to a conversation with one of my players before my last On the Edge of Exile session, as well as just in general. Thinking about Warhammer Gods is my jam, alright?!

A lot of time is spent examining the Gods and their Cults in the various Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition books, from the Core to Tome of Salvation and Tome of Corruption. But, like with most roleplaying games, something has always rubbed me the wrong way: Why would different races have different Gods, especially when the Gods are very real. In WFRP this makes a bit of sense: Most of the Gods are clear aspects of each other, and, realistically, they're not as easy to define as the minds of mortals make them. In settings like Faerûn, it's baffling. We know who the creator God is. Everyone does. And yet, for some reason, my Fake-Egyptians still worship Fake-Egyptian Gods, just…because.

But let's get back on the subject of WFRP (and maybe save the D&D bashing for another day), shall we?

I realised that the reason the different races have different Gods (in setting—the IP and real-world reasons are less cool) is that the different Gods reflect the psychologies of the races that made them, both in how the Gods manifest, and how they interact with the world. This also means that, whilst all the Gods are "real", they are more or less interested in dealing with other races, because those other races may not want to deal in the way the Gods are set up to deal… Let's take a look, shall we?

(Please note that everything in here is my opinion. Some of it is based on sources, others just on thinking about it too much. Nothing is canon. If you want canon, I dunno, read some Black Library books?)

Humans & Gods

Humans in WFRP have a very transactional relationship to the Gods. Human worship tends to be based on either fear or desire: They fear retribution for not worshipping the Gods, or they desire some benefit from worshipping the Gods.

This is also active worship. A Human changes their normal behaviours to fit the edicts and designs of the God they worship so that they can avoid what they fear, and attract what the desire. A person may worship Sigmar because they fear what will happen to their soul as a good Imperial if they don't, and they desire to keep safe their people from the depredations of Orcs. A person may worship Rhya because they fear their pregnancy will turn badly, and they desire a healthy, strong, child.

But, as I say, this is very transactional. Humans believe that if you input the actions and beliefs the Gods want you to, that the Gods will output their benefits. Whilst this is sometimes true for Sigmar, Rhya, etc., it is definitely not always the case. This is also why so many Humans turn to the worship of the Chaos Gods, because the fears they prey on (violence, disease, hopelessness, and joylessness) are very pressing in the Old World, and the desires they can grant are immediate, measurable, and, sadly, all to often granted. Praying to Shallya might work to thwart the spread of plague, but you better believe that Nurgle would be all too willing to open His arms if you come calling. He won't heal you, but He'll make it OK

This makes Humans a prime target for Chaos: Force those in league with you to spread problems that grow fear, prey on the fears of the people, convert those people to becoming in league with you, repeat. Or, alternately, grant their ambitions and desires…

This is also the reason why Norscans and the Northern Tribes fall to Chaos: They're no more evil than folks in the Empire. But they get it. They get how difficult their lives are. How terrible the land is that they're forced to live in. Folks of the Empire couldn't comprehend how terrible life would be for the Northern Tribes if they didn't get assistance from the Chaos Gods. Life would be impossible

Dwarves & Gods

Dwarves have a whole other form of divinity, completely different from that of Humans. The Dwarves venerate the "Ancestor Gods"—real, physical, historical figures from their people's past. These Ancestor Gods were, and are, paragons of their chosen fields. Grungni was the greatest miner. Valaya was a fierce guardian of her people's well being. Grimnir was the greatest Dwarven warrior the world has ever seen.

But the Dwarves don't have priests. Why? Their Gods actually existed—no one contests that. The answer is, they don't need to. They know that the Ancestor Gods won't grant miracles, nor will they intervene when the going gets tough. Nor, I think, would most Dwarves want them to. It's too counter to their culture. Instead, the Ancestor Gods are held up as symbols to aspire to. They are figures who inspire by example.

The Dwarves dig deep because Grungni taught them how. But Grungni also taught them restraint in their mining, and the folly of their greed. Valaya taught them how to govern well, and to heal the sick. The two of them represent the ideal man and woman in Dwarven society.

To be pious is to be Grungni-like, Valaya-like, Grimnir-like.

This is why you don't see many Dwarves fall to Chaos—the idea of taking a short cut is foreign to them…except for the Chaos Dwarves, right?

Wrong. The Chaos Dwarves fell to Hashut not because it was convenient, but because the teachings of the Ancestors no longer applied. They were in a situation where emulating the Ancestor Gods didn't work. Their paragons were, apparently, wrong. So they went looking for something else to guide them—and they were preyed upon by Hashut. Yes, now the Chaos Dwarves are just as scheming and terrible as any corrupted by the Gods of Chaos—but the reason they fell is far from the reasons given by most Humans.

Elves & Gods

The Elves see the Gods as truths about the world, but as Teclis has explained, they're phenomena, not deities. The Gods are stories personified. A story doesn't like nor dislike you: But it does support and maintain an ideology.

Let's look at a common story (one many reading this will be familiar with): The Lord of the Rings. That is a story that relies on bravery, of overcoming darkness, and of defeating evil despite the fact that all hope, constantly, seems lost. This is a very fine story—but it supports some uncomfortable ideology. The West is always good in The Lord of the Rings, whilst the East is bad. Industry is inherently evil, under Sauruman and the Orcs, whilst knightly virtues, and country living, are aspirationl. Kings are destined to save their people, and they hold divine right… Whether you believe in the messages of The Lord of the Rings or not doesn't matter (for this discussion), but what does matter is that you understand that the story inherently carries this ideology. You don't need to subscribe to it to enjoy the story, or to learn from it, either.

That is what the Gods are to the Elves. The Gods represent stories of people and places, actions and events. They talk of ways to comport yourself, or things to avoid, or truths about the world. Most Elves don't dedicate themselves to these stories, but everyone takes parts of them and uses them to guide their lives. Some Elves do, however. They don't become priests, gaining miracles from their Gods, but they do become living embodiment of the stories (and ideologies) that they carry.

Let's look at Hoeth, Lord of Wisdom. He is said to be the embodiment of erudition, and patron of all who search for greater understanding. The Elves tell stories of how Hoeth gifted them with much of the knowledge and wisdom that their people take for granted, and that make them great. But many debate that the knowledge this brought also brought with it progress, and progress leads to the breaking of traditions and eventually ruin. It's said that Asuryan, chief of the Elven Gods, rebuked Hoeth when he did this, and torched much of his great library…and yet, there are Loremasters of Hoeth—Elves dedicated to his image—who seek to collect knowledge and share it with those who have the wisdom to use it. They use Hoeth as an example and a cautionary, inspirational, tale.

Khaine, Lord of Murder & War is another great example, because very few Elves dedicate their lives to his story, and yet there are a lot of Elves who employ his teachings when they fight. Khaine is as much a demon in their mythology as a God: He is who you channel when you need to fight, but if you embody him too much, you'll destroy yourself. This is exemplified in the stories of the Altar of Khaine, and Phoenix King Aenarion the Defender (look them up, they're super cool).

So why do some Elves turn to Chaos? Why are there Witch Elves among the ranks of the Druchii? Because Slaanesh whispered a better story: A story of supremacy, of desire, of experience. The Elves have been fading for a very long time, and Slaanesh offered a chance to be vital, to hold back the fading, and to experience life once more. Sure, it's tainted, and it comes with a lot of baggage, but to the repressed Elves, I can understand how they'd see this as a fair price to pay. After all, it's only Humans who you have to hurt, right?

Orcs & Gods

Lastly, I'll talk about the Orcs—the ones who started me on this journey.

Orcs are not Humans, Dwarves, or Elves. Orcs don't worship their Gods. They don't hold their Gods as examples, nor do they see them as stories and aspects of the world. No. Orcs know the truth of their Gods: That neither Gork nor Mork give the slightest of shits about anything other than being Cunningly Brutal and Brutally Cunning.

Just as the Orc Gods are impressive, they are easily impressed. Kill something in a brutally cunning way, and Gork will be impressed. Twist something in a cunningly brutal way, and Mork will be impressed. Maybe erect a totem in their honour as well, because that's just what you do when you have a pile of skulls and dung lying around that's not doing anything.

When the Gods are impressed, they may bless you, or not. Who knows. But it's always better to be impressive, instead of getting stomped, so you keep doing it. The more impressive you are, generally the better you do: You grow bigger, stronger, more deadly. You gain followers, massive Choppas, loot, ale, maybe a lair. It seems like the more you impress the Gods, the more impressive they make you…

But remember, the Gods don't like you, and as soon as you stop being impressive, things will go wrong. Or is it the other way around? Do you lose the battle because Gork is less impressed with you? Or is Gork less impressed with you because you lost the battle?

Who knows. Who cares. Stop arguing about it, and get back to FIGHTIN'!

Ruinous Reactions—Fear, Terror & Insanity in WFRP2e

I have a lot of issues with fear, terror, and insanity in…basically every roleplaying game. Some games, specifically in the storygame variety, do it much better, but on the whole roleplaying games have a lot of room for growth in this area.

This is my attempt to grow on this issue in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition. This is also my submission to the Three Page Fiction Contest over on /r/WarhammerFantasyRPG!

I hope you enjoy Ruinous Reactions!

Ruinous Reactions is an overhaul for Fear, Terror, and Insanity in WFRP2e, because a) being frozen isn't fun game play, and removes player agency, and b) RPGs tend to have a very ableist view of mental health. This new system intends to fix both of these issues, and turn Fear, Terror, and Insanity into interesting game play opportunities, rather than agency sucking moments!

Download Ruinous Reactions now!

Edit: As a side note, between this post and the last, versamus reached 100,000 views, and this post was actually our 200th! Lots of milestones for the new year!

Saturday 30 December 2017

Petty Magic for Petty Matters—Part #3: Hedge

We've spoken about Arcane magic, and then Divine… Now it's time for Hedge!

Petty Magic (Hedge)

Petty Magic (Hedge) is the weirdest of the three we're discussing because a) it's by far the most dangerous magic of the three, and the most touched by Chaos, and b) it's by far the most accepted and integrated into normal everyday life, already! Many Hedge spells are more along the lines of Old Wives' Tales (given form). They're little peasant superstitions, except they're real.

Many villages, especially further away from larger towns and cities, contain a Hedge Witch of some sort—whether they're just a local guardian of the Old Faith, or they're actually attuned to the Winds of Magic, and have gone untrained and unnoticed by the Colleges of Magic. Either way, they live in an uneasy halfway between civilisation and the wilds—hence "Hedge", for they live along the hedgerow between the worlds.

Where Hedge Witches are found, you'll also find excuses as to why they should be tolerated. The Hedge Witch is often a healer, or a puller of teeth, or a warder of bad spirits. Whether they're actually doing a good job at this, or not, is up to the individual…but it always seems like villages with Hedge Witches do better than those without (though what are they trading for their prosperity?)

How does this prosperity manifest? Let's have a look.

Protection from Rain

The Witch is protected from rain and other precipitation, regardless of how heavy. This one, at first, seems like a weird spell…until you consider that most folks wouldn't have parasols or umbrellas in this age, and that to catch a cold is to flirt with death!

It may be disconcerting to see an old bent-over woman emerge from the driving rain whilst being bone dry, but I'm sure you'll forget your unease when they reveal your child, safe and sound, and unmarred by the rain. You'll be thankful when the Witch is able to guide your sheep back in, safely, when a flash storm occurs during the rainy season, or when they're the only one able to find a lost trinket out in the storm.

Plus, it doesn't hurt when nasty things come calling, to have a weirdly serene being standing among you, who has even made the rain afraid to fall on them…

Magic Flame

The Witch creates a small blue flame in their hand. In a world without lighters or easy access to fuel, being able to conjure even small flames would be a massive time saver. Sure, the fire is blue, and the edges of it look like skulls, and the back of your teeth taste like last Marktag when you were sure you heard a whispering of grey and worms and shattering and SOMETHING IS GETTING CLOSER!

Ahem. Excuse me.

Yes—the flame is weird, but it's flame. No need to dry the kindling, to labour over the spinning sticks, or to spend all your time tinkering with the flint and tinder.


The Witch creates a light gust of wind through an area, strong enough to blow out candles and scatter paper, but not to knock over objects of any weight.

Field work is tiring and very exposed to the elements. If the day is particularly hot, and there is no breeze, it would make toiling all the more difficult. Further, days of low-wind would aid crows and other scavenging birds to pick at a farmer's fields, and maybe allow larger raptors to steal young animals!

Quick, sudden, and unexpected changes in the weather, would be disconcerting to any who are paying attention (which would definitely include farmers and birds in the area), which would cause them to scatter and go elsewhere… So, whilst this might seem like a great idea to do over a farm, make sure the farmer knows the Gods are protecting them (or some other convenient lie).

Ghost Step

The Witch leaves no visible tracks for an hour, no matter where they move through.

Whilst the potential benefits of getting behind attackers who are coming to raid a village are unmistakable, I'm more interested in animals, here. There are plenty of situations where tracking animals could come after villagers: a bear has wandered into the area, the wolves of Winter are starving in the forests and are hunting closer to the village, or the Lord has discovered a theft and has unleashed their hunting dogs!

Ghost Step would aid in circumventing these dangers, and could be used to lure them away from the village, and throw off their trails. Perhaps it wouldn't be enough to stop them altogether, but it would buy time for the village to prepare: to hide the stolen goods, to gather their bows and head to the keep, or to lock their doors and hold out the hunting bear!

Ghost Step is also one of the least uncanny spells on the list: it is a talent that is conceivable to be trained (or at least, to trick a peasant that it is trained). This might require some deception on the part of the Witch, but it would be a strange Witch that didn't have to lie from time to time.

Ill Fortune

The Witch enchants an item, so that its bearer is cursed with bad luck.

This one is a little more obscured, but just remember: bad luck for one person is good luck for another. Sort of. The life of a farmer is a competitive one, and one measured in individual days. A single day of missed opportunities may mean the difference between surplus to be sold at market, and just scraping by through the Winter. Thus, cursing someone with failure, even for a day, could disrupt their whole year!

Further to that, the price of grain (as with all things) is set by the supply versus the demand. If the supply drops, and the demand is bumped up (by a farmer not having surplus, and indeed being dependant on purchasing more grain), then the farmer with the surplus will command a higher price!

There are all sorts of other uses: curse the local Lord, so they're less likely to notice their peasants short changing them, or curse the travelling merchant so they're not as savvy with their hard bargaining.

Of course, these curses are very wide-reaching, and they could have massively disastrous effects! The cursed farmer might not just be unable to work the fields properly, but might break their neck! The cursed Lord might take issue with the bad luck, and assume it's the entire village being cursed for harbouring a Witch! The merchant might get robbed on the road, and now the village will never get them back again to trade!

Ill Fortune is perhaps my favourite spell on the list: it's the most Witchy, it's the most unspecific (which means it'll cause the most drama when used at the table), and it's got such versatility. It's also, due to it being the most Witchy, the one most likely to cause the Witch strife if discovered. This sort of thing is why Witches get burnt at the stake, so be careful with its use!


The Witch touches and stuns one person.

Shock is a relatively straight forward spell: whether you need someone to stop, it has its uses. And there are definitely those times in provincial life… A man gets too drunk and disorderly at the local pub: that's a Shock. A dog goes rabid and pounces towards a young child: that's a Shock. A cow starts acting flighty, and is at risk of setting off a stampede: oh you better believe that's a Shock!

Again, however, this is a spell that looks off. It's not calming them, it's not making them drowsy: it's stunning them via a shock! If someone sees you doing this, they'll be very wary of you, and will start to spread bewitching rumours. Beware!

That's the end of our series! Make sure you read through the first two parts, Arcane and Divine, as well. I hope you enjoyed this little look into how magic can be expanded into the mundane, to make it even more dramatic and exciting!