Archive for the 'That Ancient Serpent' Category

That Ancient Serpent: Rules

2011 Jan 27

Over beers the other night, John mentioned my plans to hack Apocalypse World to create a crusaderpunk setting inspired by Rifts: Wormwood and the German post-apocalyptic angels game Engel. I’d honestly forgotten that I’d written this basic sketch up on the train, before starting Super Suit. Here it is:

Stats + Basic Moves
Those who have self-appointed themselves as the just and the righteous claim that their inner strengths – their faith, wrath, zeal, truth, fire, and love – are simply lesser earthly reflections of the attributes of God, magnified by His mortal servants. They also say that these same traits in the unjust and unrighteous are projections of human hubris, manifestations of the deadly sin of Pride. Were that this was so.

The basic stats are faith (cool), wrath (hard), zeal (hot), truth (sharp), fire (weird), and love (Hx).

  • When you place your trust in God (or man) in time of danger (act under fire w/faith)
  • When you cow your enemies with righteous fury (go aggro w/wrath)
  • When you shed blood together in glorious strife (seize by force w/ wrath)
  • When you enjoin someone with the rectitude of your cause (seduce or manipulate, w/zeal)
  • When you are shown the inner workings of the human heart (read a person, w/truth)
  • When you are given insight into the true nature of things (read a charged situation, w/truth)
  • When you soul is licked by tongues of flame (open your brain, w/fire)
  • When you love your neighbor or harden your heart against them (help or interfere, w/love)
  • When you suffer for the greater glory of God (or man) (take harm, w/harm taken)
  • When you are brought together by righteous suffering (heal someone or are healed, love grows deeper)

Character Creation
Choose your name
Choose your ethnic + religious heritage
Rather than picking a character type, pick up to three character backgrounds and then 3 moves, at least one from each background.
Roll to see if you have been exposed to the plague. Djinn do not have to roll, since they are immune.
Pick your Special for the list, based on what seems most appropriate.


Eye on the Door: escape w/Faith
Moonlighting: doing murders + cover
Ice Cold: Go Aggro w/Faith/Love
— Interfere with Zeal

Fortunes: surplus w/Fortunes
Prepared: Heal w/stock spent, 2-stock
Opportunistic: Interfere w/Faith
Prof. Compassion: Help w/Truth
Battlefield Grace: +1 armor when caring, not fighting

Moonlighting: honest work + one other
Things Speak: questions w/Fire
Bonefeel: arrive prepared w/Fire

Djinn (cannot be Infected)
Dang & Sexy: stun w/Zeal
Hypnotic: devotion w/Zeal
Perfect Instincts: Read Sit at +2
Breathtaking: +1Zeal

Healing Touch: Heal w/Fire
Frenzy: lead mob w/Fire
Charismatic: Manipulate w/Fire
Reality’s Fraying: Augury
Unnat. Lust: Seduce w/Fire
Whacknut: +1Fire

Half-Djinn (cannot be Djinn)
Art & Gracious: desire w/Zeal
Seeing Souls: Help or Interfere w/Fire
Spooky Intense: Act w/Fire

Infirmary: workspace for patients
Angel Kit: Heal w/stock spent, 6-stock
Touched by Death: death = +1Fire

Visions of Death: say who will die w/Fire
Arresting: auto-stun
Merciless: +1Harm
Impossible Reflexes: 2/1-Armor
Direct Brain Whisper: Go Aggro w/Fire, no interact
Deep Insights: +1Fire

Leadership: gang fights w/Wrath
No Shit Driver: stats while in car
Collector: 2 more cars

Wealth: surplus w/Wrath
Fucking Thieves: stuff w/Wrath
Easy to Trust: Seduce or Manip w/Faith/Love

Oftener Right: advice
Divine Protection: 1-armor
Moonlighting: honest work + one other
Insano: +1Wrath

Redeemed (must first be Infected)
Reputation: reputation w/Faith
Bloodcrazed: +1Harm
NTBFW: count as a small gang
Battle Hardened: Act w/Wrath

Battle Instincts: Open w/Wrath in battle
With proper tools, count as a small gang against dragons
Car is Tank: big, tough car
Optional Battle Moves (against dragons)

Fuck This Shit: escape w/Wrath
Pack Alpha: lead w/Wrath
Daredevil: +1Armor in danger
Good in Clinch: Act w/Truth

Lost: someone comes w/Fire
Deep Brain Scan: questions w/Fire
In-Brain Puppet: command w/Fire
Casual Recept: Read Per w/Fire, no interact
Reality’s Fraying: Augury
Pret. At-Will: +1Fire

Special: Hx+3/+1
Special: nullify
Special: Deep Brain Scan, auto-hit
Special: gotta go
Special: +1Forward/+1Forward
Special: 1-barter gift
Special: Help or Interfere, no interact
Special: gig to keep them happy
Special: Things Speak, auto-hit
Special: several options for influencing others (Skinner)

How to Portray Dragons
To summarize: cross nightmares, tyrannosaurs, and crows. Dragons are feathered dinosaurs (like what we now think dinosaurs looked like) with an aura of terror based on Arresting Skinner.

Dragons are alpha scavengers: airborne tyrannosaurs with a cold, avian intelligence, possessing both a raven’s nose for blood and its eye for hoarding shiny objects. They descend on sites of violence and death – battlefields, hospitals, abattoirs, freshly dug graves – like sharks in a gluttonous frenzy. But rarely do they start the carnage themselves, preferring instead to amplify mankind’s own bloody tendencies into a sickening cacophony of suffering, turning tragedies into abominations with their mere presence. Wherever the scent of blood or pestilence rises into the air or the flash of riches or clash of arms glints brightly, they will come.

Dual Harm/Infection Clocks
In addition to the Harm clock there is also an Infection clock for each character, including NPCs. When a character has taken Harm, they can choose to heal that Harm by trading it in for equal amounts of Infection. The contagion simply takes over the injured parts of your body and fixes them up, but it also takes them for its own, causing your to grow slightly monstrous. Removing infection is possible, but it either requires a supreme act of exorcism or burning the infection out with djinn-fire. Both of those typically require you to take more damage than the infection originally healed, so – if you’re at a high infection level – removing the infection may very well kill you.

Also, sometimes becoming infected isn’t a choice on the player’s part. Sometimes when you mess up a Harm roll, the MC can give your some of the Harm you were supposed to take as Infection.

That Ancient Serpent

2010 Dec 20

This post is going to be a work in progress, since I want to get back to doing incremental design on this blog, rather than in InDesign or on a forum. It is going to be a super-short, super-light hack of Apocalypse World, no longer than 2 pages in length, to handle the “outbreak of dragons” concept I posted earlier. Here goes:


Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken: for out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a basilisk, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent. — Isaiah 14:29

It is currently after the Second Crusade but before the Fall of Jerusalem to Saladin. The draconic plague has come, spreading through the Levant from some mysterious source. No black wings yet fill the skies, but it is only a matter of time. Baldwin the Leper is King of Jerusalem, but he is growing more and more enfeebled from the plague that has kept him wrapped in bandages and largely concealed from public view. Rumors have it that he is molting off swaths of scaly skin and that his insides are writhing and transforming. It will not be long now. But the king is hardly the only one infected and, if a quarantine is not enacted soon, we may all very well perish in the fire that is coming. The red dragon has been loosed from the bottomless put, and this is surely the Apocalypse.

Add to Character Creation

  • English, French, German, Spanish, Byzantine, Born in the Holy Land, Persian, Egyptian, Arabian, etc.
  • Jewish, Christian, Muslim, other (Zoroastrian, etc.), or choose a more specific patron (i.e. the Archangel Michael).
  • Infected Human (choose 1 move from the Plaguebook), Uninfected Human (choose 1 additional move from any playbook), Djinn (choose 1 move from the Book of Flame; cannot become infected), Half-Djinn (choose 1 move from the Book of Flame; can become infected, but do not start play that way), or Redeemed (former plaguebearer who had the plague burned out of them by djinn-fire; cannot become infected; starts with a special move I haven’t written yet; based on Apoc from Wormwood)
  • Dragonslaying heritage (replace 1 move with a move from the Book of Slaughter) or no Dragonslaying heritage (take Hx+2 or Hx-2 with an old slayer family).
  • Make a list of slayer family names as options to pick from the name list

Special Playbooks

  • The Plaguebook: moves for the infected; once you start taking moves from this book, you can’t stop (though you can still take other moves too), and once you’ve taken 3 moves, you must switch to the book entirely; and the final XP option is turning into a dragon, becoming one of the GM’s threats, and making a new character
  • The Book of Slaughter: ancient techniques passed down by the slayer families for killing and quarantining dragons; must be learned from the families but can be taught to those outside the lineage
  • The Book of Flame: techniques for djinn and half-djinn, made as they are from smokeless fire; one can discover their djinn heritage during play, but these techniques cannot normally be taught to outsiders; however, those with highly advanced cases of the plague begin to spontaneously manifest fiery magicks.
  • The Book of Life: advanced techniques for those of extreme faith, drawing on their connection to God, the Prophets, and the angels; clergy may or may not have these gifts; see, for an example,

Normal Playbooks (all of these will simply use renamed existing moves from AW)

  • Knight: Templar/Hospitaller(first aid kit, like Gunlugger)/of Saladin
  • Warrior/Crusading Grunt
  • Assassin
  • Clergy
  • Noble

The great beasts simply count as gangs of various sizes depending on the potency of a given dragon. They also generally work like threats and have special threat moves of their own.

The Plague
Each major NPC in the game that becomes infected has their own countdown clock. You can guess what it counts down to. Non-named characters are simply treated as part of larger threats, which have countdown clocks that represent the spread of the plague in certain regions. There are, of course, plenty of threats that are not directly related to the plague, such as infighting and bureaucratic nonsense and people with the best intentions.

An Outbreak of Dragons

2010 Dec 18

I was just thinking about how to combine fantasy with body horror.

What if monsters are an infection?

So it’s late medieval times, the Black Death (that horrid outbreak of monsters) is long gone, and nobody’s seen a dragon in a century. However, there are a few families that keep practicing the dragon-slaying arts, teaching them to their children in case the wyrms ever return. But the siege weapons that were once used to bring down the great flying beast are all ancient and rusty. And with only 20+ people who know how to man them, half of them ancient themselves, and no officials manning their posts who know shit about how to conduct a quarantine after a dragon has been slain, nobody is ready for what’s about to happen.

Gravediggers and treasure seekers uncover part of a mummified dragon corpse deep in the desert, with the insides still fleshy and warm. Soon they are infected, turning into scale-covered beast-men with mouths full of fangs and a hunger for raw flesh. Many of them are slain in grisly street battles and entire cities are put to the torch and the sword, attempting to stop their spread, but it is too late. A few escape deep inside desert caves, where their scales molt off and their true form emerges.

The dragon-slaying families go to work, their rusty skills now the only chance of halting the disease. But they are hampered at every turn by kings and bureaucrats who think they know better or want to be heroes. When a dragon attacks Jerusalem and is finally brought down, no quarantine is declared, even though half the city is splattered with dragon blood. The sultan himself has the heart of the beast roasted and brought to him on a platter, the fool. Soon the holy city is teeming with monsters.

Somebody’s going to have to put an end to this, and nobody but the old slayer families and a few enlisted allies will do it. But that will mean enforcing the quarantine on their own, including killing some of their brothers, sisters, and kinsmen who become infected over the course of their messy job.