Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Alter Ego

I never really got into psionics.  To a vanilla D&D player like me, they were a complicated sci-fi system bolted onto a fantasy game that was already more Overcomplicated than Advanced.  And even when they did work and were coherently fit into a setting (like in Dark Sun and…um…Dark Sun), the point management and clinical language of the powers definitely felt alien in Vancian AD&D.

That said…sometimes some of that language—especially the terms borrowed from Georgian and Victorian-era psychology—transform concepts we take for granted into honest-to-God monsters.  So in Pathfinder, an alter ego isn’t just a concept—it’s Mr. Hyde sprung to life!  And with a strong dash of OCD providing drive and motivation, an alter ego can have a big effect on its real counterpart’s reputation in a short time…and that’s assuming it doesn't just kill the original first.

But these obsessive ectoplasmic creatures don't just have to be the result of trauma.  Dungeon crawls, planar adventures, and even random treasure tables are always throwing magical looking glasses or mirror dimensions in the PCs’ way.  The alter ego gives you a quick way to stat up such a character while clearly answering all those thorny questions about “Does my double have my gear?” and “Why does it hate me so much?”, etc.  So the next time you’re GMing on the fly and a mirror of opposition comes up on the treasure table, you can roll with it instead of rerolling.

Annie Scythetooth is an annis hag known throughout the Lakelands…and that was almost her downfall.  Adventurers combed through the local folktales to track her down and nearly succeeded in exterminating her.  The trauma of that encounter caused an ectoplasmic double of herself to be born, bubbling out of her cauldron like stew coming to life.  A rejection of the brash and boastful nature that got the hag in such hot water, Annie’s alter ego is paranoid, fearful, and terrified of discovery.  Ironically, this makes her even more dangerous than Annie, who, as a child murderer, at least had reliable habits and diet.  Annie’s double, meanwhile, hides her existence by murdering nearly everyone she comes across and filling the woods with complex hedge mazes and deathtraps.

According to the scrolls, alter egos arise from moments if incapacitation.  In Sir Gerald’s case, it was decapitation.  Fortunately, the headsman botched the job, failing to sever the neck cleanly, allowing Sir Gerald’s own healing magic to sustain him as his friends rushed to his side.  (The trial and execution were a sham from start to finish, with the crooked judge, bailiffs, and barristers fleeing the scene rather than finishing the job.)  But the trauma was more than enough to leave a psychic residue, creating an alter ego of the paladin.  This version has no faith in the institutions of law, including the local constabulary and the church.  The resulting obsessive construct is a dull-eyed, puppet version of a freedom fighter, doing his best to make life miserable for the local institutions, but without any of the passion or derring-do of a true rebel.

A mesmerist has found a magical mirror that he believes can draw out the dark side of the viewer.  Happy to capitalize on his discovery, he has set up a clinic where those with troubled pasts and dark rages can literally confront their worse natures.  He even went so far as to have his patients room with their alter egos…until the murders started. Now the mesmerist is desperate to hide the evidence or lie his way out of his situation (all the while continuing to produce doubles to refine his technique) while alter egos of some of the most dangerous men and women in the city run free, committing all kind of out-of-character acts (some noble, some vile, some bizarre) while wearing their real counterparts’ faces.

Occult Bestiary 4–5

I did not just cave into temptation and buy a bunch of Dark Sun books online.  I did not cave into temptation and buy a bunch of Dark Sun books online.  I did not…

Yes, this is last Thursday’s entry.  It is now Tuesday.  I kind of suck.

But hey, it says “most every weekday” on the masthead for a reason.  I’ve been pretty good about the “every,” but some weeks I need the “most.”  You guys feel me on that, right?

My absence caused Alex to ask:

A 15-day gap!? Are you doing okay?

Thanks, man!  (Or woman?  With Alexes you can never tell.)  I’m doing fine, thanks!  It’s just the usual—demanding career, a chronically ill loved one (who logged some more hospital time over the past three weeks), the radio show, and I’ve been refocusing on my fixing my sleep and exercise schedule.  For the past few weeks, that’s meant not typing blog posts past 11 PM and offering myself a little forgiveness when they get tardy.  I’m engaged in a project to return some sanity to my life, and part of that is giving myself the room to not always be so on point in every aspect of my life 24/7.

Also I was in Atlanta this weekend.  Not as hot as advertised.

While we’re on the subject of personal stuff: Michelle Panik was my classmate, then my roommate, then she regained her senses and moved to California.  She was just named the runner-up for Feminine Inquiry’s Fall Fiction Contest.  I don’t think the story is out yet, but you can find FI here and the rest of Michelle here.

Meanwhile, Kate Miltner and I were in a wedding party a few years ago, and we hit it off immediately, if mostly over Facebook.  Kate’s been looking at the history of Internet trolling, and her research got a big write-up over on Slate last week.  Here’s the link.

Back to monsters:

Adam Daigle—you know him as thedaigle—put up a post on the Paizo Blog about scary-movie-inspired Pathfinder monsters.  Check it out here.  There’s also buzz about the forthcoming Bestiary 5 here. 

And reader Alaizia took a look at the final adventure seed for Spring-Heeled Jack and wrote:

I really like that last one, wish there could be a game built around that ^_^ with more things for it.

I think there is, and it's called Pathfinder!  One of the reasons I do this blog is to highlight the fact that Pathfinder works for more than just Golarion…and even for more than just late-medieval/early-Renaissance-inspired fantasy.  You might need to tweak some skills and whatnot, but with a copy of the Core Rulebook, Ultimate Combat (for the gunslinger), and Ultimate Equipment (for some more modern weaponry) you can go pretty far in most eras.  For a private school campaign like the one above, I’d also go for the Advanced Player’s Guide (the school’s chemistry wiz could be an alchemist; inquisitors, witches, or oracles make good villains) and the Advanced Class Guide (for the brawler, swashbuckler, and investigator).  Try it, add some skills to reflect the modern era, and go nuts.  Or steal the idea and import it into d20 Modern or Monsterhearts or something.   I won't tell!

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