Tuesday 24 October 2023

Setting: Seeing the Forest for the Trees (Murk)

Murk is an unearthly land dominated mostly by forests located on the greater Akenian continent of the Wistful Dark. It is oft-discussed by both curious academics and cautious lay folk of the rest of Outer World. It is understood as the last vestige of The Dreaming, a place where the laws of material reality wane and old, indistinct things dwell. 

Folk live there, and some even wander away from it, but their stories of the place are disparate. Many believe a mortal can only ever know a small part of those great woods, given its strange condition of being of Outer World but being also distinct from it. People rarely die in Murk - it is more likely they will vanish among the trees or become something else entirely.

The Formless Council holds court there, but the ranks of the Unshaped have dwindled to a truly pitiable number. The Glassen Tsar of Crystalia and The Queen of Weeping Shadows rarely attend. Lesser unshaped (such as Belzuub) grow brazen, mocking their ostensible superiors for languishing in idle fantasy. Schemes are often proposed, but are generally never agreed upon.

Murk does often change to reflect the council's moods and whims, but these ripples are petulant rather than methodical. Breezes from all corners of Outer World blow through its foliage, bring chill or warmth in equal measure. Places wither and regrow without warning. Roads, when present, rarely ever lead to the same place for longer than a few days.

Every woodland path eventually leads back to Murk. If one has the permission from a particular Forest's ruler, they may pass from it into that strange land. Some speak of great adventurers who have made numerous alliances so they may quickly traverse from one end of Outer World to another.

Great power gathers here, but it is brittle and fleeting: the oldest being in Outer World rests in a meadow. One great tree rises above all others, a spire filled with treasure from places that do not exist. In a shining lake somewhere, a duchess in white is trying to grow a moon. If one does manage to find the heart of Murk, they may also discover the last remaining fragment of the world that once was.

Wednesday 11 October 2023

Freebie: wonder and Whimsy (Gear + Adventure Site Features)

I'm unreasonably excited for Super Mario Wonder, so I thought it might be fun to theme this freebie around it. 

I've loved the Mario games since I was a kid, and while it might not be quite as influential on my stuff as a certain other Nintendo franchise I do think some of its DNA did make its way into BREAK!!

Besides, BREAK!! really wears its influences on its sleeve, so it just feels right to occasionally write things like this and show off how people might translate their own favorite things into it for their own sagas.

Anyway, enough blathering, onto the freebies!

(On the off chance you don't know what game I'm talking about, here's the trailer)

Wonder Fruits
These unique consumables grant an array of effects upon use, usually a bonus ability coupled with an appropriate physical or cosmetic alteration. They are quite rare, often manifesting a few at a time every century or so in very specific places. They have proven to be impossible to cultivate or reproduce and are unsuitable for use in even magical crafting - given this, and the fact they seem to have been around in some capacity for as long as history has been recorded, scholars have defaulted to blaming the Unshaped for this one.

Wonder Fruits:
  • Take up a single inventory slot if stored
  • Can be consumed with an action.
  • Unless otherwise noted, their effects last until the user would lose a heart or incur an injury somehow. The user is spared the damage, but the power up's effects end immediately.
Due to their nature as rare, single use items found in specific places, it's hard to put a value on Wonder Fruits as normal merchants simply don't have much reason to try and sell them. Undead Merchants however occasionally hunker down and peddle them for a (negotiable) 50 Coins a pop.

Bumpo Berry (Consumable, Power-Up)
This odd, fist size berry looks a bit like a Wooly Bumpo's head, growing in magic saturated places that are in some way affiliated with those majestic beasts.
  • Consuming one of these fruits will not only nourish you for a day, but also transform you into a mighty hybrid of yourself and the berry's namesake! In this form:
    • You grow to Large size, if you aren't that big (or bigger) already.
    • Grants you Supernatural Might and the Champion's Brute Elective Ability.
Other Wonder Fruits can be created by pairing different abilities with physical changes or colorful effects. Given their temporary nature, you might even allow players to gain access to powerful abilities that are usually only available to adversaries, or create a sort of  power-up that is essential to getting around a particular Adventure site.

Whimsy Stones
Whimsy Stones are an extremely concentrated version of the magical energy that Sages draw on for a number of their spells. There are a few reasons why enough mana collects to form one of these: magical duels involving repeated spells, rituals that go a little too well, or the death of a particularly powerful sage are perhaps the most well known.

Whimsy Stones are rooted in the ground of certain Adventure Sites and are activated by touch. This creates a Whimsy Effect (see below) that affects the site for 24 Hours. This drains the stone of its magic, though it will resume soaking in mana and become charged again in a span of time dependent on the nature of the site itself. These effects extend to the player's party unless otherwise noted.

It is said that the these stones, ripped from their place of origin and with their mischief shucked away, are an integral component of a Pedagogue's apparatus.

Whimsy Effect (Roll or Choose)
  • 1-2: Everything and everyone currently in the Adventure Site is granted a very unbecoming hat they are compelled to wear for the duration of the effect.
  • 3-4: Every location in the Adventure Site now has 3 Chompas (from the adversary section of the BREAK!! rulebook) wandering around them in addition to whatever was in there before. Roll on the Chompa's Mood Table to see how each trio is handling the situation.
  • 5-6: Every applicable target within the Adventure Site becomes afflicted with a thematically appropriate Status Ailment as chosen by the GM.
  • 7-8: The scenery within the site has come to life and is now moving or wobbling about! Roll a die for each Battlefield Area that comes up to see what condition they gain from all this wiggling:
    • 1-4: Nothing new, thankfully
    • 5-8: Isolated
    • 9-12: Sheltered
    • 13-16: Cramped 
    • 17-20: Precarious
  • 9-10: The entire Adventure site is now flooded with water. It's thankfully breathable even for folks bereft of gills, but it does mean everyone inside is going to be stuck wading or swimming everywhere.
  • 11-12: The doors and portals of this adventure site are tired of being slammed, having their locks picked, or being bashed open at a whim and are on strike. Anyone wanting to move through one normally will have to negotiate with them (their Aptitudes for any negotiation rolls are equal to their Object Defense Rating, -2)
  • 13-14: Physical violence is impossible within the Adventure Site for the duration of the effect. Conflicts are instead resolved via things like card games, rock paper scissors, tongue twisters - whatever the GM has on hand, really. Anyone who loses one of these contests or attempts to attack someone else (including the use of hostile abilities) vanishes until the effect is over, re-appearing at the spot they last got a decent rest at.
  • 15-16: The lighting of the adventure site inverts. Well lit places are now pitch dark, shadowy spots are now bright and so forth. It's very disorienting and has likely got the site's normal inhabitants in a tizzy.
  • 17-18: The smallest inhabitant of the Adventure Site (not including members of the player's party) is now Massive size (per the Adversary section of the BREAK!! Rulebook). This often comes with an proportionate increase in aggression.
  • 19-20: The Adventure site is immediately flipped upside down. This one is probably a (comedic) disaster.

Tuesday 3 October 2023

Setting: Prominent Belief Systems of Outer World

Many belief systems have come and gone throughout Outer World's history. Each aeon brought in new ways of thinking, and with it, a cataclysm that overthrew some existing power or eroded away a status quo once taken for granted. The current world is characterized by the swirling mixture of remains of divine law, scattered eldritch powers, tattered fate, and the ubiquity of the arcane. It is an overwhelming, but nonetheless wonderous place that calls to be understood. Scholars, leaders, and overthinkers have tried their hands at making sense of it all, and some of those thoughts have actually stuck.

It should be noted that while all of the following belief systems have dedicated adherents, the average individual mixes and matches aspects of these teachings in the way that suit them best. Many find Outer World to be too strange and chaotic a place for a single cosmic truth.

The Mana Inequity Principle and Arcane Altruism

A stark reality of Outer World is that certain individuals can do things that others cannot. Seasoned casters will spend their whole life studying to master a few spells, while some cocky hedge wizard will have just as many under their belt with a fraction of the practice. Veterans of multiple wars will watch in awe as a youthful waif leaps along rooftops and displays master level swordplay to topple a flying beast they couldn't touch, and so forth.

Both light and dark mana flow through all things, but it lingers longer and empowers certain individuals more than others. This leads to heightened physical ability, rapid personal growth and supernatural talent with magic and other skills. This obvious difference was noted by a group of 2nd Aeon researchers, who also named it the Mana Inequity Principle.

While these facts are easy to see, a question remains: why does this imbalance exist?

Early assumptions attributed it to spiritual enlightenment or being chosen by fate, but ancient studies and modern observation have proven that mana attunement is not connected to these factors at all. In fact, there seems to be little or no consistency between those gifted few. Magic is as alive as any of us, after all, and is just as subject to whim and capriciousness as the folk are.

There remains a debate as to exactly what a mana attuned individual should be doing with their gifts. The most popular contemporary answer is “Whatever they like”. In a close second is the primary edict of Arcane Altruism, a philosophy created by prominent Akenian sage Dizah Gren.

It proclaims that all magic, including that which is under the power of an individual, should be used for the betterment of all folk. Dizah's initial intent was clear: she was a firm believer in using her power and knowledge to improve the lives of those without and felt others should aspire to do so as well. A rival wizard named Gar Baxin liked the sound of her teachings, but argued that to truly do the most good casters must first accumulate a great deal of arcane might, leading to the well intentioned doctrine becoming an excuse for some to attempt dangerous rituals and hoard powerful relics.

While it fell out of vogue after the 3rd Cataclysm and the fall of Akenia, Arcane Altruism has seen a recent resurgence, predominantly in Shard's college of Magia. The Gren and Baxin schools of thought came along with it, and that debate has also resumed.

Dawn Orthodoxy

The primary tenet of this philosophy is that the light of the Sun Machine is a shepherding force, essential for living a full and proper life. The Invincible Bright is anthropomorphized as a benevolent force, blessing the Sun Machine and all those who wield Bright Magic with the strength and wisdom to keep the folk on the path of truth.

Obfuscation and ambiguity are regarded poorly, as a lack of clarity is seen as the primary obstacle on the path of enlightenment. Some of its observers are loyal to Emperor Regulus, seeing him as an embodiment of the Orthodoxy's principles in Outer World. While he had little to do with the founding or spreading of their beliefs, he's yet to deny this beneficial assumption.

The Speakers of Sol represent the main driving force of the Dawn Orthodoxy. Centered in the Sol Alliance, their spirited words ring especially true in light of the Sun Machine they so proudly revere. They lack a particularly strict hierarchy, giving each speaker equal authority on the subject of their religion and leading to a great deal of factions under the Orthodoxy's umbrella.

Followers living in regions not graced with the light of the Sun Machine are known as the “Splintered”. Many will never see the brilliance they so admire, contenting themselves with Star Shards and other sources of illumination while hoping their essence can join the Invincible Bright upon death. Their practices tend to be a bit less bombastic and softer than the Speakers of Sol, but they are no less dedicated.

Dark Adventism

Often dismissed by detractors as the whisperings of those lost to ambition and egoism, Dark Adventism is actually a rather complex and flexible set of beliefs. The Profound Darkness and the embrace of one's innermost self is at the center of its ideology. Expression is a most holy act, with both great works of art and blasphemous displays owing their existence to this philosophy.

Denial of one's emotions and desires or those of others is against the ethos of Dark Adventism, but like the Profound Darkness itself this edict is mutable and interpretable. Those truly devoted to the philosophy fully embrace the contradictions that come when one's wishes intertwine and conflict with another, seeing them as quandary worth pondering and a test of conviction.

Most dedicated practitioners concentrate on personal agency rather than grand sermons. Known as the Tenebrous Pact, its adherents seek their greatest selves by whatever means they can manage. This private path is popular with all walks of life, attracting everything from ambitious merchants and artists to skilled warriors and phantom thieves.

A more controversial form of Dark Adventism is Nephelism, named after the celebrated Shadow Queen of old Calian, Nephel. Based predominantly on her actions and teachings, it eschews the abstract aspects of the philosophy and puts a greater emphasis on dark magic as an effective means of attaining one’s desires. Nephel herself had a well documented fondness for summoning entities from beyond the sky to do her bidding.

The Twilight Manifest

Moderation and balance are the core virtues of the Twilight Manifest. Both the Invincible Bright and the Profound Darkness represent various forms of excess; problematic but necessary. It is good and proper for one to maintain parity in their various whims, usually with the help of self-discipline or a spiritual leader.

Excess is seen as the primary sin of the folk, one that even the most pious will occasionally falter in. Many teachings of the Manifest suggest seeking balance via calm contemplation on how best to harmonize their immodest tendencies. Some will even suggest to attempt equal but opposite actions to achieve true equilibrium.

The Twilight Manifest is gently practiced in many places of the Outer World, seen as a guideline rather than a strict code of ethics. It is often adopted by those reaching the later years of their life, as the moderation it espouses is seen as a good way to keep healthy and safe.

More structured versions exist, however. The Church of the Sacred Chain is the most prominent faith in Shard and encourages strict enforcement of its doctrine, going so far as to accept donations to their institution as a means of "balancing" one’s immoderations. This has worked out well for the church, allowing them to grow into a powerful organization and even fund their own knightly order.

A final note...

This is not an exhaustive list of the philosophies and religions present in Outer World. For example, the religions for the various small gods, immortals, and un-shaped that have bothered to gather a following are missing, as are the teachings of those loyal to the deposed Divine Rulers and the remnants of their Celestial Order. There are also further sects and branches in the philosophies listed here. Attempting to list all of them would be an arduous task indeed.