Wednesday, June 8, 2022

OSR Hermeneutics: Random Encounters as Oracular Action



The "fortune teller" uses their preferred oracular system (such as the Tarot) to randomly reveal symbols whose surface meaning must be "pushed through" to arrive at a deeper, universal, "archetypal" meaning. Not only that, but the fortune teller must be skilled to contextualise these symbols into the circumstance, and living experiences of the person whose fortune is being "read". The universal must be drawn into the specific in an artful and logical way so that the symbols can be filled with useful psychic energy and living symbolic meaning.

The goal is for the subject of the reading to "take upon" these symbols, appropriate them into their consciousness, and fill them with a vitality so that unconscious things become conscious, and the hidden becomes revealed. Oracles are a lense to peer deeply into the present.

In a similar way, interpreting the random table in old school games follows an oracular process. At the appropriate prompt, the "random encounter" gets rolled. This is usually based on the phase of the hex crawl, or how long you've been wandering in the dungeon. The result is by and large underwhelming and minimalist. "Bandits", "Ogre", "Wild Animal" are an example of typical results. In and of themselves, these results are insufficient. They lack any kind of context or connective tissue to the narrative fabric and internal logic of the fictional game environment.

What a GM does with these results is a hidden trick, never spelled out in any game manual. In order to make the results work, the GM performs an oracular "reading"--a creative, intuitive 'calculus of plausibility', with the subject being the game world. Out of narrative necessity, the basic, universal results are drawn into something dramatically specific. "Bandit" becomes a group of hungry criminals hiding out from the lords scouring knights. "Wild Animal" is the runaway horse of a dead lord whose leg is stuck in a brick wall. "Ogre" is a hungry and lost monster who has strayed far from his distant home.

Like a fortune teller, the GM interprets the random encounter results according to the internal logic and continuity of the fiction. If the encounter breaks the integrity of the game world it cannot stand--it becomes illogical, jumps shark, or betrays the expectations/ buy-in of the players. The lens of interpretation upon which a random encounter must be read, is always skewing toward the plausible, the contextual, and the fictionally grounded. 

A random encounter partners with chance and chaos, and is therefore of a different character than mere improvisation. In a way it is a conversation with the outside. The most agreeable narrative outcome will always bear some trace of inputs from "beyond imagining". The synthesis between the random inputs and the contextual reading creates a vital narrative energy. It as once of the game world, but bears traces of an agency outside of anyone's control. Unconscious things become conscious, the hidden becomes revealed, and the results of a simple table are brought to intelligent and surprising life.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

SHADOW WAR BLOWBACK

Here's a little procedural subsytem for CHROMATIC SHADOWS dealing with "blowback" after a shadow operation, or contracted mission. It's intended to be used during the "aftermath phase" of a mission, and incorporated into the emerging narrative of the campaign.


BLOWBACK

  • In the Shadow War, there’s the very present risk of collateral damage. The fallout from a run gone sideways can blow out into the Sprawl, and affect people and places in unintended ways.
  • Witnesses to strange events or violent exchanges are a liability to Shadow War operations. Lingering occult energies might permeate a site, and leach into the surrounding area. Supernatural specimens, or creatures may have escaped into the Sprawl, risking major exposure
  •  Characters might be called in by a Proxy to cover up a mess, to deal with another crew who were responsible for a mess, or pursued themselves for blowback that they were responsible for.

SYSTEM

During the 'aftermath phase' of a completed mission, roll one die for each of the following occurrences, and reference the 'successes rolled' table below.

  • violence out in the open
  • Violence in heavily residential area
  • Innocent bystander threatened or harmed
  • Occult asset used 
  • Occult asset used in front of witnesses 
  • Significant property damage
  • Supernatural beings present
  • Supernatural powers used openly

SUCCESSES ROLLED

  1. Witnesses saw some violence, they’re scared, but they don’t know anything
  2. Witness got a good look at the situation, they are scared and know something weird is going on, but nothing too specific..
  3. Numerous witnesses scared and hiding. Violence, as well as unexplained events were clearly seen, and possibly recorded.
  4. Numerous witnesses. People came to harm. Small traces of physical evidence left behind in the site, or have fallen into the hands of the local population.
  5. Cover blown. Crowd of people witnessed the operation, and possibly supernatural events. Several came to harm. Significant physical traces of operation left behind.
  6. Botched Operation. Supernatural events revealed to the public. Large scale occult specimens, energies, and beings have escaped into the Sprawl.


Thursday, May 26, 2022

Gothic Wilderness Sites

I've been wanting to expand the Curse of Strahd random encounter table since I first started reading the module. Rather than expanding the table of creatures, I've decided to create tables for sites and locations. The following are a small collection of  'gothic wilderness sites' that could be discovered off the beaten path. They can be rolled up alongside the standard tables to add context or as a separate location based encounter in and of themselves. They aren’t campaign specific and could be easily used in any sort of brooding wilderness campaign to add atmosphere and mystery. Lastly I've included two small tables for random weather events (inspired by the Dolmenwood tables), should they need to be randomly determined. Enjoy!

 



SITE TYPE

  1. Monument
  2. Tomb
  3. Shrine
  4. Ruins

MONUMENT

  1. Obelisk
  2. Needle
  3. Standing stone/ menhir
  4. Cairn
  5. Statues
  6. Carved totem
  7. Crude marker
  8. Image carved into tree

SHRINE

  1. Wayward shrine
  2. Small chapel
  3. Sacred grotto
  4. Crude altar
  5. Stone circle
  6. Hollowed out tree
  7. Fetishes
  8. Temple in treetop

TOMB

  1. Small cemetery
  2. Burial mound
  3. Shallow grave
  4. Mausoleum
  5. Portal tomb
  6. Bodies hanging from trees
  7. Open burial pit
  8. Sarcophagus
  9. Ossuary
  10. Solitary grave

RUINS

  1. Small family home
  2. Hermits hut
  3. Crumbling tower
  4. Small keep
  5. Sunken foundation
  6. Treehouse
  7. Covered wagons (1d4)
  8. Campsite, improvised shelters
  9. Hunting cabins (1d4)
  10. Monastery: shattered church, chapter house, cloisters

LOCATION

  1. Atop a grassy hill
  2. Within a grove of slender trees
  3. Within a natural basin 
  4. In a tangle of brush/ briars
  5. Beside a stream
  6. In a sudden meadow
  7. Amidst a swamp or wetland
  8. Amidst a rocky shield or scrabble
  9. Zone of large stones/ boulders
  10. Within a natural cleft of stone
  11. Zone of blight
  12. Stand of majestic old growth trees 

TEXTURES 

(roll 1d3)
  1. Overgrown with ivy
  2. Dried blood
  3. Claw marks
  4. Insects crawling/ buzzing
  5. Thick fungus/ lichen
  6. Unusually cold area/ objects cold to the touch
  7. Wildflowers blooming rampantly
  8. Smell of corruption
  9. Scattered bone shards
  10. Clumps of animal fur/ feathers
  11. Dripped candle wax
  12. Rime of ice
  13. Dead birds
  14. Occult symbols gouged into surface
  15. Uncanny silence hangs upon site
  16. Infested with beehives, buzzing bees
  17. Animal den
  18. Burned, blackened with scorch marks
  19. Marked with warding symbols
  20. Overgrown with foliage, tall grass, ferns, trees, etc

WEATHER, VALLEY

  1. hazy, overcast
  2. Frosty, chill
  3. Rolling Fog
  4. Scouring Wind
  5. Thick Clouds, damp mist
  6. Driving Rains
  7. Brooding Clouds
  8. Drizzle, damp

WEATHER, MOUNTAINS

  1. Frosty Chill
  2. Light snow
  3. Blowing winds
  4. Icy fog
  5. Snow squall
  6. Blizzard
  7. Brooding clouds
  8. Sleet/ hail



Sunday, May 1, 2022

PANTHEONS OF ARCHENTERON

As a welcome distraction from the Chromatic Shadows salt mines, I've been revisiting the 'The Land of Calyx', my evolving OSR/ D&D acid-fantasy/ dying earth project. It's sandbox setting influenced by Vance, Wolfe, Numenera, ASE, Dark Sun & Carcosa. The following introduces the region's leadership, as well as a description of the religious pantheons therein. I've sketched out the primary gods worshiped, and outlined the signifiicant rites observed by the temple clergy.



The Archenteron Dominion

The twilight of a 1000 year empire. Archenteron spreads thin across the midlands of Solfria. In the capital city of Helios, Grand Emperor Gothaclyx has ruled for 100 years, but is becoming more insular, more occulted. His Seneschel, General Tybor has begun making public proclamations in his stead. Gothaclyx has been delving deeper into ancient history, obsessed with the power of the Old Ones. Makes only rare ceremonial public appearances. Surrounds self with a cabal of sorcerer advisors from the outer regions known as the Red Shroud. Rumored to partake in their black life expanding rituals. 

Calyx

The city of Calyx is perched upon a triple tiered hill and gazes out over the red river Dasute, toward the Prismatic Pits, and out to the trackless Cobalt Wastes beyond. Prince Mitra, youngest and weakest of Gothaclyx’s sons is granted praxis over Calyx, and rules with contempt. He is a dissolute hedon, lost in pursuit of pleasure and luxury. He throws constant opulent balls which occupy the social theatre and status of the elite, and is growing ever oblivious to the power of the Red Shroud gathering beneath his nose. Calyx and its environs constitute the region where the campaign setting will be focused.

 

THE PANTHEONS OF ARCHENTERON

  • Primary Gods: Utu (The Sun), and his sister concumbines Pytheia & Seline (the Moons). Seline is the goddess of “good” feminine energy, of childbirth, fertility, and hearth. Pytheia is the smaller red moon, she symbolizes magic, chaos, blood, death.
  • The many Children of Utu, with their munificent influences (also known as the Wanderers, or the Orbital Gods) move distantly through the night sky. 
  • Ancestor cults, as well as animist religion are known and practiced less widely.
  • Many cults devoted to the Old One practice in secret, but are condemned as demon worshipers by the civilized & pious. They are feared and shunned by normal society.
  •  In Calyx, the Blue Ascetics venerate the 'Father of 1000' forms, an entity believed to be an emissary of eldritch wisdom from beyond the stars. He is said to appear to those lost in the wastes as a silent hermit with obsidian skin who leads his faithful to safe havens. His many other forms include that of a great desert king, a three lobed eye held alight by great black wings, and a column of flame that is never extinguished. His presence is heralded by the sound of discordant pipes upon the desert wind.
 
 

Cult of Utu


 

Appearannce- Utu appears as a great lion headed man, often with eagles wings. His face shines with the radiance of the sun. He is depicted driving a great golden chariot across the dome of the sky, until he takes his rest at the house of his sister-concubines Seline & Pythia. There he sleeps, until morning. In freizes depicting the primordial war against the avatars of chaos, Utu is seen carrying a flaming sword and sometimes a golden lance into combat.
 
Temple- In each of the great cities of Archenteron, the ziggurats of Utu rise high above the squalor. Their gilded peaks catch the first light of the sun, marking Utu's return from the house of the moon. Stepped building made from kiln fired bricks. Broad and steep staircase leads to a high platform and altar above where the priests perform their public rituals. Various chambers within, where the high priest and clergy live, study, and conduct private rituals to satisfy Utu.

Priests & Clergy: All male, shave their heads bald, golden piercings and jewelry. Wear golden robes and togas. During ceremony, they wear elaborate sunburst headdresses of gold and adorn their bodies with solar symbols drawn in ritual ash.

Daily Ritual: At high noon, a sacrifice of a goat by the chief priest upon the high altar. The diviner reads the internal organs. The meat is roasted upon the ritual pyre and given to the poor. The rest is burned in a pyre that lasts until the following morning.

Seasonal Ritual: Crowds gather for the sun sacrifice. A group of golden painted priests performing a public sun ceremony at the temple at high noon. A large male lion, washed and groomed, is led to the top of the temple by the twin Priestess of the Moon. After chanting the liturgy, the priests slashes its throat, and burns its body in a great pyre. Its roasted heart is consumed by the high priest. Great pyres are lit all through the bazaar district and it's a day of high festivity.


Cult of Seline & Pythia


 

Seline's Appearance- Seline appears as a tall regal woman with, golden hair, and eyes like twin sapphines. She is robed in a white and blue mantle, and is often seens carrying sheaves of wheat, a candle, a cauldron of water, or a small pyramid within her hands. Sometimes she wears a tiara of stars, and is seated upon a slender throne. 

Pythia's Appearance- Pythia is smaller than her sister. She has long locks of raven hair, and her eyes shine like bright coals. She wears black hooded robes, often open, revealing her voluptuous nude body. She is seen carrying a lantern, an orb, a sickle, a skull, and sometimes a serpent. In her wrathful mode, Pythia is depicted with fangs, a long obscene tongue, and multiple arms with clawed hands.
 
Influence- Cults devoted to the sister moon goddesses can be found in every city of Archenteron. The blessings of Seline are sought for matters of marriage, hearth, & home, whereas the influence of Pythia resides over the occult, prophesy, sex, magic, and death.
 
Clergy- The Sisters of the Moon are exculsively female. The priestess caste are consecrated as vestal virgins as young girls. Wealthy families will often offer their youngest daughters to the cult, in exchange for status and temple access. The devoted of Seline wear white and blue flowing gowns with silver and pearl ornament, whereas the Priestesses of Pythia wear black and red gowns, with onyx, quartz and garnet ornament. 
 
Rituals- The Sisters of Seline are the more publicly facing of the two sects, performing common rituals such as the blessings of a home, a newborn child, or a marriage. The Sisters of Pythia, however, are cloistered and dwell in the inner sanctum. They spend their time in the observance of esoteric liturgies and contemplative prayer. All of the priestesses are constantly attended by an entourage of temple virgins. On full moons, a select few individuals prepared with fasting and alms are admitted to the ‘Sanctum of Pythia’. Those seeking audience are granted a question of the oracle-priestesses, who in turn answers (from the depths of an ecstatic trance) with the wisdom of goddess.

Temple- Circular temple girded with fluted columns, built in two concentric rings. Inner and outer chambers. Silver dome above, with twin oculi at center. The outside ring has sensuous marble statues and numerous altars dedicated to Seline, whereas the innermost ring is reserved for the Sisters of Pythia. Men are not permitted, except on the nights of prophesy. 
 





Saturday, April 30, 2022

Simplified 5e XP System

 


After looking for a better way to award XP for my current 5e campaign, I find myself circling back to a little hack I wrote a few years ago. Presently, I've been using the milestone method, but the players seem hungry for a system with a little more substance. Likewise, I want the player's creativity and success to have an actual metric of value. I like the idea of awarding XP, but I find the system as written too granular, too many inflated numbers, and too fixated on monster death. This proposed new system allows for easy, intuitive XP calculation and accounts for actions like problem solving, roleplaying, as well as old fashioned goblin murder.
 
 


XP COSTS REQUIRED TO LEVEL

  • To reach levels 2-5, spend 10 XP to level up.
  • To reach levels 6-10, spend 20 XP to level up
  • To reach levels 11-15, spend 25 XP to level up
  • To reach levels 16-20, spend 30 XP to level up. 

A more familiar looking progression chart:


ACTIVITY NECESSARY FOR LEVELING

  • A character may not always automatically gain a level when the requisite XP is earned.
  •  At the GM's prerogative and according to the needs of the adventure, an appropriate quest, task, period of training, or downtime may be necessary.

  EARN XP FOR

  • 1 XP- Overcoming an encounter that is designed to challenge the party (moderate threat).
  • 2 XP- Overcoming an encounter that is particularly dangerous and life-threatening (deadly threat).
  • 3 XP- Overcoming a climatic encounter designed to end a story arc.
  • 1 XP- Exceptional problem solving, uncovering secrets, story progression, puzzles, circumventing encounters, etc.
  • 1 XP (once per session)- Exceptional scene of creative, extraneous and out of the box awesome character action.
  • 1 XP (once per session)- Exceptional scene of roleplaying a character's Alignment, Ideal, Bond, or Flaw. 

An observation--with this system an average player is likely to net 4-5 XP per session, and assumes a fairly brisk pace of advancement (through lower levels at least). A DM may want to dial this amount by a few points in either direction depending on how quickly they want their players to advance. As it stands with a net average of 5 xp per session, a player can expect to reach reach level 10 after 28 session and level 20 after 83 sessions. 

Friday, April 1, 2022

8 OCCULT ASSETS

At the heart of the Shadow War, the Megacorps struggle to control eldritch artifacts and hypertech devices known as Occult Assets. Billions of credits and thousands of lives have been spent in pursuit of this power. Any Megacorp that unlocks these secrets, and spins them into a global commodity, will dominate their rivals.

Occult Assets are extraordinarily powerful, inestimably valuable, and highly contested. The Megacorps fight their Shadow War over them, and will spare no expense in their recovery. Major events within the game world revolve around them. They do not fall casually into the hands of PCs. If and when the do, the Sprawl is always shaken up by this change in power dynamic.
 
The following is a descriptive list of 8 Occult Assets for Chromatic Shadows (but suitable for other cyberpunk/ urban fantasy games). The fallout from a single one of these artifacts can propel an adventure or mini campaign over multiple sessions of play.

1. DEVOURING HAND

 

DESCRIPTION

A cyberarm built from offworld metals possesses uncanny properties: holographic intelligence & self arrangement. The ability to “repair” itself. This prosthesis creates many possibilities for military tech as well as armor & protective shielding.

EFFECT

Nanite modules allow for the cyberware to “repair itself”. If the user's meatbody suffers garm, the cyberware begins to repair damaged organic injury too. Injured tissue is replaced with threads and modules of machinic components.The only way a cyborg can be killed is to utterly destroy it with an explosion, melt it, decapitate it, or target its heart.  If the cyborg is ever reduced to 0 Unity/ 12 Strain it becomes totally inhuman. If its a PC, the character is no longer playable.

ACTIVATION KEY

None, other than the standard Unity loss/ Strain value (with a bonus to reduce). The cyberlimb simply needs to be installed in a user in order to work. However, as the users body is replaced with living machinery, it requires the user to “feed” on an energy source in order to remain active (see below).

COMPLICATION

As the cyborg’s body becomes artificial, it gradually becomes reliant on external energy sources to function. They must “eat” electricity [a number of times a day equal to ½ its strain value] in order to power their cybernetics. And are therefore forced to seek out ever more potent sources of electricity lest their systems power down over the course of the next 6 hours [lose a die of willpower per hour, at 0, the cyborg is dormant].

HOOK

A cyborg is rampaging through the sprawl, devouring energy sources. Cars batteries are being stolen, and transfer stations broken into. This activity draws the attention of the Proxy’s who hire a runner team to investigate.


2. HEAD OF GOD

 

DESCRIPTION

Desiccated head on top of a box of tech. If hooked up with a living subject via a DNI link, the head sings a rapturous alien song, or utters strange glossolalia. Anyone who hears it is mesmerized and stricken with awe.

EFFECT

Each time it sings or speaks those that hear it are swept into religious rapture. Out of body experiences, psychedelic bliss, hallucinations, etc. The head inevitably gathers a herd of cultish followers obsessed with re-experiencing its intoxicating effects, likening it to religious rapture.

ACTIVATION KEY

The head's abilities are powered by the “life force” of victims. DNI trodes are plugged into the box and then attached to a victim's temple, where there vitality is drained away. They aren’t killed however, as the head is powered by a subjects mental energy. Victim's minds and memories are being erased as a result.

COMPLICATION

As the head's cult becomes more fanatical, they are increasingly compelled to abduct and sacrifice victims. Typically these victims are drawn from the lowest strata of society, and are seldom missed. Occasionally a notable citizen falls to the depredations of the cult, and draws the attention of law enforcement or the megacorps.

HOOK

A strange mental illness is sweeping the Barrens. Its victims are only capable of mumbling gibberish and singing an alien melody--all victims of the Head of God. A dangerous neotribal cult is responsible. Their members believe the Head prophesied an impending apocalypse and the cult “priests” are appointed to interpret its utterances. In order to escape the impending doom, more “holy victims” must be sacrificed.


3. GHOST TREE

 

DESCRIPTION

A pale white tree grows in darkness, and its threads corrupt a subterranean area. Tendrils of dark influence creep above ground into the sprawl. Animal life in local parks, or vacant lots have begun to exhibit strange effects. Neighborhoods are falling into corruption.

EFFECT

From its underground position, the “tree” spreads like a mycelium colony. Webs of ghostly fiber penetrate the ground and thread upward into the world above. Ultimately these filaments rapidly bloom above ground into strange waxy vines that produce a red fleshy berry. These berries smell strongly of rotting meat, and as such attract the attention of hungry animal life. Any being that consumes this fruit, (or consumes an animal that has fed upon the fruit), begins to share in a “hive intelligence”. Each being shares a psychic link with each other being in the network. They become passively aware of any threats that any one of the beings might experience, and experience their thoughts as a whisper in their minds. As an action any being can look out of the eyes and experience the senses of another being in the network for as long as they concentrate.

ACTIVATION KEY

A berry must be consumed or an animal that has eaten the berry. Within a few hours, the creature becomes psychically aware of the others in the network.

COMPLICATION

As beings fall under the influence of the tree, they become increasingly aggressive. They will never willingly leave the corrupted zone, and become consumed with a single minded desire to defend the tree from threats. The tree can "call" out to its thralls in the network, and command them to its defense. Any creature under its influence obeys immediately.

HOOK

The tree came about as an experiment of the effects of alien energy sources upon plant and fungal organisms. A botched experiment caused an explosive growth of alien foliage that rapidly began corrupting the research team. Those that survived, abandoned their secret facility, fleeing for their lives. The underground lab is overrun now, and the Ghost Tree stands at its center. The infestation is expanding further outward, with a little more growth every day.  Animals have begun to act strangely aggressive. People have gone missing. The megacorps have taken notice. Its just a matter of time before a runner crew is sent in to investigate.


4. REALITY KNIFE

 

DESCRIPTION

A blade made from extra dimensional crystal that flows and ripples like liquid. It radiates colors from within, and seems to flicker in and out of phase.

EFFECT

The blade stabs through a fold in space-time in order to slay a remote target. To the Reality Knife distance and objects are no obstacle.

ACTIVATION KEY

User spends a full round “attuning” the knife to a physical specimen of the target (something containing the target's DNI, less than 48 hours old). A ghostly image of the target soon appears in the user's minds eye. Grasping the knife, the user strikes at its target.

COMPLICATION

When the reality knife is used to attack a remote target, it also kills a portion of  local reality. The “hole” in reality that the knife slips through becomes tainted. A permanent “dead zone” [radius in yards equal to Damage] manifests where the knife is used. Plant life withers and dies. Paint begins to peel. Wood rots. Metal rusts. Any non living substances that remain in the dead zone rapidly decay under the effects of accelerated entropy. The knife takes a toll on the user too. Every time it is used a Willpower   check must be made (Threshold 4). Failure means a point of Unity is lost. As the users unity slips away, their identity becomes more occulted, until no one remembers them or who they ever were. Eventually the user becomes ‘out of phase’ and slips out of reality altogether.

HOOK

An assassin kills a high ranking corporate target with a knife to the heart, but there is no evidence of the crime. The victim remains behind locked doors, cameras are blank. The victim simply doubles over and dies from the slash of a blade that isn’t there. A team of runners are allied in to investigate.


5. CLONING PODS

 

DESCRIPTION

Two pod like chambers large enough to accommodate a single human, each situated at a different, remote location in the sprawl.

EFFECT

A creature enters into the origin pod and its form and essence is fully recreated in the secondary pod. The result is a nearly perfect simulacra of the test subject, complete with all previous memories, and full consciousness. The clone’s personality is nearly identical to its originator, but there are subtle, disturbing, differences that begin to manifest as time goes on.

ACTIVATION KEY

The user simply enters the origin pod, the door seals shut. An encrypted activation sequence is engaged from a local computer terminal. The whole process takes nearly 10 minutes to power up, activate, and cycle down. If the process is interrupted in any way, the result is a failure, or perhaps something worse results.

COMPLICATION

Subjects have secretly volunteered to test a highly experimental “telepod” with the ability to teleport a user from one place to another instantaneously. But this is a misleading lie. The pod is not a transporter at all. The person in the origin pod is led to believe the device “doesn’t work”, and is released from the experiment. However, they have in fact been cloned, and their double on the other end is being detained and studied in an underground lab. These doubles believe themselves to be the “original” and have no knowledge of the other. The doubles begin to manifest strange physical and social traits. They are stronger, smarter, colder, lack empathy, are prone to bouts of cruelty and violence. If a double were to ever see its original self, they are immediately compelled to attack and destroy them.

HOOK

One of the doubles escapes from confinement and returns to his family. Meanwhile the original finds out there is someone who looks just like him living with his wife and children. Terrified, he goes into hiding. A rival corp discovers this, and hires a team of runners to investigate.

6. DEMON SOCIAL MEDIA APP

 

DESCRIPTION

An experimental social media platform is conducting its beta launch with a network of select users. Using standard iPilot trode interface, the app allows for the capture and sharing of short bursts of “stim-sense” over a network without the need for an elaborate stim-sense rig. “Stim-Toks” provide 6 second blasts of high intensity emotional and sensory data to a user. Users can experience the same loop over and over, or “swipe left” to stim numerous loops in rapid succession.

EFFECT

High intensity stim-tock binging creates a rush of euphoria that chases peak after emotional peak. Rapid fire clips of the most intense, disassociated, and unfiltered emotional and sensory experiences creates a rush that overwhelms the user until they are mentally and emotionally exhausted. A few minutes later, they’re ready to do it all over again.

ACTIVATION KEY

The user’s access to stims are gated behind how many clips they themselves upload and how many “likes & shares” they garner. Every stim-binge session, requires the user to upload their own clip first--and that clip must receive a certain amount of “likes” in order to unlock the highest tier stims. Recognized status within the app allows for the highest tier access. The interface forces the addict to upload as many clips as they can, so that they themselves can freely experience the clips that they desperately crave.

COMPLICATION

Users become utterly addicted to the euphoria of the new tech, going into violent withdrawal if they can't get it every few minutes. An Eldritch Entity is imprisoned within the server farm with weird tech & runes and its corrupting energy is being amplified and broadcast through the app.

HOOK

A rash of bizarre crimes have broken out across the sprawl as the app forces the users to escalate more and more reckless activities. Kids in particular are getting hurt, while putting themselves in increasingly harmful situations in order to achieve the most intense and highly rated 6 second emotional peak. As the user base of the app grows, so does the Entity’s power grow, straining its bonds. More powerful restraining runes and tech are required to contain it, and even these are becoming less secure.
 

7. SCANNER CHIP

 

DESCRIPTION

An experimental neuro-chip is implanted in a user’s brain producing telepathic powers. The chip patches directly into a user’s neuromesh, requiring precise and potentially dangerous cyber-surgical implantation. Once the chip is installed, it is very difficult to remove without harming the subject. Megacorps are secretly developing this technology to create a class of to psychic spies.

EFFECT

With a moment’s concentration, the user can pry the thoughts from a target’s mind. Surface thoughts are easily revealed, and deeper secrets can be uncovered with more time and effort spent.

ACTIVATION KEY

The user simply looks at the target and concentrates briefly in order to establish mental contact. Additionally the user needs to be within 100 feet of the target or else contact is broken. Intervening objects typically don’t interfere with the scanning ability, although scanning through lead is nearly impossible.

COMPLICATION

The more the implant is used, the more it causes distress in the user. Users begin to suffer a low mutter of mental voices, that escalate into a cacophony. As time passes, user loses the ability to filter out individual minds. The clashing thoughts from every passing person becomes unbearable. In order to make these voices stop, some scanners have lost control,  psychically lashing out at innocent people.

HOOK

A test group suffered a psychotic break and escaped into the sprawl, isolating themselves away from the “voices”. But they have left harm in their wake. In their efforts to escape their captors, they have left several corporate agents, and more than a few civilians catatonic or dead. They are deep in hiding now, hoping to isolate themselves until they can figure out how to remove the implants & stop the psychic trauma.


8. DIMENSIONAL NEEDLE

 

DESCRIPTION

A large blocky cannon extends from a cube of esoteric machinery. The device shoots a beam of dark energy that pierces through the skin of reality, opening a portal to the Outside Realms. Within these realms, research teams launch missions to recover alien artifacts and powerful objects, but risk drawing the attention of deadly xenothreats.

EFFECT

As long as the energy beam is active the door is held open, allowing for two way access to an interdimensional space. Beings can pass from our realms into the alien shadowy landscape of the Outside, and beings from the Outside can pass into our reality.

ACTIVATION KEY

The Needle draws on a tremendous amount of energy power to operate, requiring an external power source, often tapping into a local power grid. Widespread power outages, and shortages are common in the sprawl zone during the window of time that the needle operates.

COMPLICATION

The Outside Realms, is a hostile environment. Any explorer must contend with the treacherous landscape, the poisonous atmosphere, and the imminent danger of xenothreats. Humans are required to wear protective suits to filter toxins, protect from radiation, and provide breathable oxygen. Eldritch entities haunt the Outside, and are drawn to portals, and explorer teams. Each team has only a short window of time to explore before they are withdraw to safety

HOOK

Needle operators are using the portals to salvage for hypertech and alien objects. Sensors go off when a xenothreat gets close--explorers are immediately withdrawn, and the gate is rapidly shut. But sometimes, teams can’t get out fast enough. Recently a large team of explorers who were carrying a trove of valuable artifacts were lost. However, drones have detected their signal. It was discovered that the team is sealed within a strange geometrical hive-like structure. Their vital signs are active, all of them were alive & healthy, but they aren’t answering comms. The corps are prepared to make one last attempt at saving the team (and their valuable cache) by sending an experienced runner team into the breach.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Sprawl Site Generator- CorpSec

The perverse jewel of corporate opulence at the elite heart of Metroplex. The CorpSec is a locus of human power on earth; a hyperelite ecosystem for the super-rich. Glittering chrome spires stab to the heavens, rising from a grid of concrete barriers and guarded security checkpoints. Cavernous luxury apartment suites look down to the miniature world below. Every luxury and pleasure known to man is here for the taking, if you can afford it. Those who can't seldem make it past the razor wire barricades.


 

Roll or choose elements from the following list of random tables to quickly generate varied sites within the CorpSec. Designed for Chromatic Shadows but compatible with any other cyberpunk/urban fantasy game.

 

Corporate Sector Random Tables

  1. Security Zone- Chainlink and razor wire buffer zone of redundant security checkpoints lead in and out of corp sec. Milispec officers command rigorous ID scanner verification hubs. Drones monitor from above. Vehicles are subject to thorough search by scan & sniffer bots.
  2. Lux Villages- Ultramodern glass and steel atriums connect by tube line elevators and transport hubs to cavernous subterranean “villages” filled with luxury restaurants, boutique stores and niche entertainment venues. A hangout spot for hyper rich teenagers.
  3. Corp Spires- Piercing steel and glass towers where the execs conduct business like gods within their boardrooms.
  4. Atrium Moderna- Glass pyramids and concrete rotundas filled with interactive AR installation art, and ultramodern sculpture.
  5. Nordic Tower- Massive vertical downhill ski resort and winter sports complex. Artificial snow all year round.
  6. Safari Acres- Menagerie with genetically regenerated extinct animals in a recreated environment. Cuddle a behaviorally modified tiger, or hunt a synthetic rhino.
  7. Cloud Casino- Luxury hotels and gambling tower complex perched high in the clouds. Glass and chrome spires interconnected by high speed tube elevators and a fleet of private gyrocopter livery cabs.
  8. Aquarium - Underwater luxury hotel suites built beneath the lake. Glass bubbles look out to artificial coral reefs swept in laser lights.
  9. Executive Suites- Soaring high above the district. Contains hundreds of open plan apartments and condos. Slanted cavernous ceilings with floor to ceiling glass windows.
  10. The Caverns- Multi-lane underground highway threading below corpsec. Connects to every major public or commercial parking area.
  11. The Cathedral- Soaring gothic edifice, behind tall metal fence. Old blackened stones reinforced with steel scaffolding, starkly contrast the hypermodern structures all around. Building is old, and in disrepair. Mostly ignored, and used for under attended religious services, and ironic photo ops.
  12. The Gardens- Sprawling multi-tiered complex of glass and steel tracery. Walkways wind through carefully manicured hydroponic gardens and park areas. Birds flutter about. Environment is climate controlled, roaring air scrubbers filter for atmospheric toxins.
  13. Gyrocab Livery Docks- Elevated concrete platforms where gyrocabs and gyrolimos launch and dock. Nearby garages where vehicles are parked between routes.
  14. The Arena- Massive stadium enclosed with faceted geodesic roof. 200 foot holoprojections above advertise the next corp sponsored concert or sports event.
  15. Micro Parking Unit- Retractable automated micro parking unit. Cars are pulled into small kiosk, where service unit rises from underground area. Robotic arms slide cars into storage slots, that are then lowered back into the ground.
  16. Hospital- Sprawling ultra modernist city block sized complex. Organic shaped buildings interconnected by numerous glass elevator tubes,bridges and automated walkways. Punctuated with large faceted domes and twisting lozenge shaped towers.
  17. Construction Site- City block cordoned off with fencing. Massive partially built skyscraper, draped with scaffolding. Cranes tower above. Crab drones scuttle up and down the height carrying construction material in their pincers.
  18. Police Barrack- City block sized brutalist structure. Composed of concrete slabs and wedges cut with slatted windows and skylights. Massive atrium of bulletproof glass emits a multistory holoprojection of the rotating “police shield” outward toward the public.
  19. The Canals- Artificial waterways carve through the hotel district. Numerous narrow bridges cross over them. Luxury gondola drones drift past schools of designer koi fish. At night the laser buoys are lit, filling the waters with pulsing neon light.
  20. Waterfront Village- Dome enclosed park-habitat, restaurants, and ultra modernist performing art center

Structural Qualities

  1. Brutalist concrete slab
  2. Steel web tracery
  3. Twisting geometric
  4. Multi tiered ziggurat
  5. Narrow piercing spire
  6. Suspension bridge
  7. Faceted glass/ crystal
  8. Mirrored chrome
  9. Pure marble
  10. Extruded concrete modules
  11. Geometric relief ornamentations
  12. Translucent tiles that modulate color

Details

  1. Contracting crew on robotic scaffolding
  2. Fashion shoot. Exotic models posing on a nearby architectural detail. Drone camera swarms hovering nearby.
  3. Convoy of black cars with tinted glass, heavily armed security detail scanning area
  4. Outdoor political rally or fundraiser. Gathered crowd around a pop up stage. AR/ holographic projections towering overhead.
  5. Parties dining in glass booths suspended above the street.
  6. Large pack of tethered dogs being led along sidewalk by several hovering scooper-drones
  7. Nannies pushing high tech baby pods (anti-grav, A/V augmented climate controlled acrylic bubble)
  8. Landing module/ package delivery kiosk for courier drones.
  9. Protesters crowded outside barricades, squaring off against riot cops
  10. Medical team responding to emergency
  11. Paramilitary police unit blocking area, checking ID signatures
  12. Pedestrians in personal inflatable bubbles

Cyberpunk Textures

  1. Projection screen mounted to the side of a multistory building advertising plastic surgery
  2. Atmospheric sheltering kiosk for emergency oxygen and air filtration
  3. Solar panels cover a city block/ roof of building
  4. Drone surveillance in slow synchronized formation
  5. Towering 3D hologram advertising projections
  6. 1000 foot telecom tower built upon nearby concrete pad/ roof of building. Lights blink through the smog above.
  7. Colossal modernist sculpture. Slowly gyrating/ kinetic elements
  8. Glass enclosed automatic sidewalks/ self-climbing stairs
  9. Retractable access doors leading to underground area
  10. High speed tube elevators along side of building
  11. Helocopter pad
  12. Light module, blasting a thick beam of colored laser into the night


Monday, December 13, 2021

Chromatic Shadows Faction: SENTINEL

A Lamp in the Dark 

The Sentinel network is small, and local, but its members are bound to a common cause: To find and protect people touched by the Weird, to keep watch for occult events and enemy factions, and to fight back. Many of its members are ex cyber-runners, who have defected from the life of exploitation and violence. Now they are hunted by their former employers. Sentinel has the infrastructure and resources to keep them safe.
 

  • There are safe houses throughout the sprawl. Medics, food banks, credit advances if needed. Places to lay low if the heat is on. Sentinel understands your obsession with the Weird, because they’ve gone through it too. They might not have the answers, but they’ve got  your back. They can help you talk to the right people and look in the right places. And when you’re ready, Sentinel is looking for street operators like you to push back against the darkness.
  • Sentinel’s agents are called upon to engage in covert acts of infiltration and retaliation against its occult enemies: namely the Megacorps, the Hand of Moloch & the Void Cult. Sentinel agents are scouts, spies, and sometimes soldiers. They must be prepared for activation and ready to run investigation and information gathering operations on a moment’s notice. 
  • This information is passed along to Sentinel leadership, and sometime that’s enough. But many times, heavy operators are called to upon to take direct, violent action. These agents delve straight into the heart of the occult machinery--to take out a black site, a secret lab, or a cult infestation. Mission by mission, Sentinel pushed back against the enemy, spreading light in the dark corners of the Sprawl swallowed by the shadow war.
  • Sentinel must take pans to conceal its activities and protect its agents if it wants to survive. Sentinel organization works through local Sprawl or district based cells called a “Watch”, Each Watch has little to no communication between each other. Any information sharing is mediated by Sentinel leadership, an anonymous group known only as ‘The Parliament’. This decentralized network is the first line of defense against their enemies. It limits who or what any individual agent knows and shields the whole organization from reprisal, should they be found out. 
  • Watches are usually no more than a dozen or so loosely affiliated street operators in any given district. A  lieutenant known as the Wickie dispenses missions and investigations to individual agents, and channels information and field reports directly to the Parliament. As a rule, Wickies only ever interact with the Parliament within the Grid. Missions and information sharing is only done within secure node-constructs, and never at the same address twice.
  • The Parliament themselves appear as and heavily encrypted personas, with deep access to a vast data network, and some mastery over Grid architecture. Some speculate Parliament members might be highly placed corporate officers, acting as double agents. Others believe they aren’t human at all, but rather a group of powerful, sympathetic AI entities. Stranger still is the persistent rumor that the Parliament are in fact.the mind-networks of the original Matrix drift teams. They have awakened from their stasis vats, and are now secretly plotting to undermine the work of their captors.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Chromatic Shadows Faction- THE VOID CULT

A Ravenous Darkness draws close, hovering in a spiraling iris. Eldritch energies hemorrhage through the wounds in reality made by man's hubris. The change has begun—prepare the crooked path. Those who usher its coming will be rewarded, and transformed. Every one else is a tool to be exploited or an obstacle to be destroyed.

A Corrupting Influence

Void Cult cells infect the sprawl like a malignant wound, their corruption spreads from the margins inward. The cult’s origin is shrouded in mystery--the member’s  identities and digital footprint are traceless. All attachments to the false world burned to cold cinders. With demonstrable power and dark prophetic authority, the Void Cult draws fanatical members into its ranks.

Claiming Nexus Points

Guided by hypnogogic omens, the Void Cult is spurned to seek out and claim Nexus Points—interstitial places in the sprawl where the skin of reality has worn thin. These sites are always tainted by some terrible trauma-- fallout from the Shadow War, a human tragedy, an environmental disaster. Here the cult performs rituals and hoards artifacts in order to commune with the Outside.

Artifact Hunters

The cult scours the sprawl for occult assets through their expanding secret networks. Artifact fragments and hypertech are relentlessly pursued, often in direct competition with the megacorps. The cult draws upon these artifacts to deepen their connection to the Outside, defend their territory and to destroy their enemies.

Eldritch Scars & Occult Gifts

Cult members are rewarded with Eldritch Scars—marks of favor from the Outside. The number of scars a cultist carries determines their rank within the hierarchy. Every initiated cultist carries a sign of corruption.  Black pits for eyes, boils that never heal, webbed hands, rubbery skin, shark-like teeth,  the pallor of the grave—these energies over time will overshadow a cultist, and subsume their humanity. A cultist gains a number of extra dice to all intimidation tests equal to their number of scars, and suffer an equal penalty to any tests involving empathy or appearance.

As cultist gains scars and rise within the hierarchy they also manifest “occult gifts”—terrifying powers fueled by the eldritch energies that permeate their being.

Dark Metamorphosis

Certain rare individuals are warped into something other than human. This “final gift” of the void,  is considered by the cult to be a true rebirth. A metamorphosis that brings them fully into the presence of the ravenous darkness.

Atavistic Saints

These “blessed ones” are atavistic cannibals, reduced to a state of perpetual hunger and alien malice. They never leave the nexus points. Blessed Ones are fanatically guarded by the flock, and continually gorged on the flesh of living victims. 

 

Cult Lairs

Void Cultists regard nexus points as sacred places to be defended at all cost. Nexus Points tend to be marginal spaces--buildings or underground spaces typically found in the Barrens or the Slags. As much as possible, the cult will live in these spaces. Acolytes sleep and eat in spartan, communal chambers, whereas the high priests claim private quarters.  The epicenter of outside energy is always reserved as the cult’s “inner sanctum”. These places become horrifying ritual chambers adorned with bleak, occult iconography. Here the gibbering “blessed ones” can be found skulking in the shadows near the bloodstained altars consecrated to blasphemous eldritch entities. The cult’s artifacts are held securely in these ritual chambers. Any given cult has between 1-3 minor or medium tier artifacts.

CULT HEIRARCHY

POSTULATES have no scars, and await full initiation. They don’t yet live at the Nexus Points, and their participation in the cult’s activities are limited until they have proven themselves. They still have identities and act as the necessary intermediary to the normal world that the cult has forsaken. (Postulates use any tier 3 or lower NPC stat block and have no Occult Gifts.)

ACOLYTES have 1-2 scars. They are the rank and file cult members, living in cenobitic community within the Nexus Points.They observe vows of silence and obedience, answering individually to the High Priest. Their lives follow a rigid pattern of ritual, work, &  meditation. Acolytes act as elite operatives of the cult when the need arises. Upon receiving their 3rd scar an acolyte is prepared for the priesthood, and the responsibility of founding their own cell. (Acolytes have 1 Occult gift.)
 
HIGH PRIESTS have 3-5 scars. They are the spiritual leaders of the cult, and the top of the hierarchy. They command the flock, lead the rituals, and have exclusive rights over any artifacts the cult may have acquired. (High Priests have 2-3 Occult gifts.)

BLESSED ONES have 6 or more scars, and have fully metamorphosed into bestial subhumans. They can not speak except in the tongue of the abyss, have little more than cunning animal intelligence, and suffer a perpetual cannibalistic hunger. They exist only to feast upon their victims, and worship at the black altar of their eldritch gods. (Blessed Ones have 4 occult gift.)



ELDRITCH SCARS

Roll or choose from the following table to determine the Eldritch Scars that warp the being of a Void Cult member. Use these scars as prompts to derive the final inhuman form that the cult’s Blessed Ones might take.

  1. Webbed hands
  2. Rubbery loose flesh
  3. Eyes like black pits
  4. Bestial double speech
  5. Needle like teeth
  6. Vestigial appendage
  7. Corpse-like pallor
  8. Balding in scabrous patches
  9. Tumorous growths/ postules
  10. Hands warped into talons or pincers
  11. Coarse black hair covers body
  12. Animalistic muzzle
  13. Long, ape-like arms
  14. Body slick with cold slime
  15. Patches of translucent skin
  16. Wriggling tubular growths
  17. Ridges and spines on  limbs and body
  18. Large tusks or fangs
  19. Lamprey mouth
  20. Extra fingers and toes




 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Chromatic Shadows Faction: Hand of Moloch

The Hand of Moloch are emerging power players in the Shadow War. This highly secretive cabal of wealthy hyper-elites, are obsessed with immortality, and the occult. They will take any obscene measures to extend their wicked lives and increase their reach of power. The megacorps, often dismiss them as "eccentric gentry", but increasingly, conflicts of interest run hot. In these cases a cyberrunner team might be called up to infiltrate a Hand compound, in order to perform espionage, wetworks, or relieve them of a contested asset.


     

  • Sect of elite, enormously wealthy, occult obsessed decadent hedons. Many come from “old money” families. They are bankers, investors, corporate board members, and wealthy philanthropists.
  • They believe their history, wealth and genetic lines place them above the mortal cruft as “superior beings”. They seek nothing less than the keys to immortality, and the prerogative to revel in the most decadent and debased pleasures imaginable. They want to control the world, because it is owed to them. They are gods on earth, unconstrained by laws, morals and material need. Soon death itself will be defeated.
  • The inner circle consists of impossibly rich ancients kept alive for two centuries through genetic engineering, organ replacement, cybernetic implantation, etc.
  • In secure facilities, they keep stockpiles of clones in suspended animation. Adult clones in the peak of their physical health are kept in suspension vats for the purposes of organ harvesting, and body replacement. Cloned children are raised in highly secretive boarding school until they reach adulthood when they will be put into the vats.
  • A branch of the Hand seeks the means to upload consciousness into a digital matrix. They have already come close to perfecting AI simulations of their personalities, but the actual “transference of consciousness” still eludes them. Shadow War artifacts are of particular interest in this regard. They believe that some alien “canister” like devices from the moon and elsewhere might hold the key.
  • They exist above the laws of men and corporations, but will use these institutions to further their own agendas.They siphon off occult assets from the corps, or through their own networks. They also employ sorcery, but possess a shallow and incomplete understanding. The Typhonists take pains to protect their knowledge. What the Hand does with their occult assets and minor sorcery they exert influence toward their own agendas, which are usually insular, personal, obscene, & criminally weird.
  • They have occult ritual pageants, elaborate masquerade balls, where they engage in sex/ drug orgies, and sometimes human sacrifice. Costumes, masks, and archetypal enactments of their mythology is a component of their rituals
  • Many of these parties center around the selling and trading of “dolls”. Human trafficking rings provide men and women who are mentally conditioned with implants and drugs for  obedience. Cybersurgeons perform hormone augmentation and surgery upon them to make them perfect physical specimens. These dolls are docile, compliant & willing servants. They can be reprogrammed for certain behavior profiles (using headchips) as desired.
  • The Hand's base of operations are mostly in the Fortress Estates, where large ancient complexes are built in seclusion behind electric fences,15’ foot hedges and state of the art security systems. Sometimes on large yachts out to sea.
  • These locations are Faraday cages, information cannot be broadcast from within them, without the express permission of the admin. No external AR or Grid connection. On site servers operate a private host/ AR node network, which would need to be tapped/ hacked from within for infiltration.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Crafting Items from Monster Parts

The following table is a list of 20 powerful items that can be crafted from monster body parts. It is written with my acid-fantasy 'City of Calyx' D&D setting in mind, but it's suitable for many other old school adventure game systems and settings.


In the wilderness beyond Calyx, beasts both both alien and terrible stalk the crimson steppe.  Merchants and loose lipped adventurers speak of creatures warped by aeons of arcane fallout, and of the magical bounty to be carved from their dead flesh. Monster bones and organs are sought after, and command a high ransom of gold at the Calyx Bazaar. In the hands of a skilled craftman, these regents can be carefully formed into items capable of strange and powerful effects.

 




Roll on the following table to determine what monster part can be harvested from a magical beast and crafted into a usable item.

  1. Bones, talons, teeth- crafted into arrow clubs, blades, arrow tips & spear heads. Grants additional to hit bonus, cause extra damage
  2. Pheromone glands- grants a bonus to ability to intimidate or persuade
  3. Strong hide- resistant certain types of damage (bludgeoning, piercing, slashing, etc)
  4. Stomach acid- highly corrosive to a certain substance it touches (metal, flesh, stone, wood, glass, etc.)
  5. Gut- craft into powerful bowstring for increased firing rate, stronger & more accurate shots.
  6. Venom sac- poison causes deleterious effect when ingested or injected (paralytic, sleep, confusion, death)
  7. Parasites- carnivorous worms burrow into any exposed flesh. Can be applied against a new target host, causing rapid injury and disease.
  8. Organ sac- thin membrane can be stretched over body. Increases swim speed, resilience to the elements (fire, cold, electricity, acid, etc).
  9. Sticky secretions- applied to hands and knees, adds a significant bonus to climbing tests. Use it as a glue to anchor something in place.
  10. Pineal gland secretion- psychedelic compound causes dreamlike visions, transient psychic powers and auguries of the future.
  11. Alarm pheromone- apply the hormone to one’s body to summon like creatures which will defend you against a threat.
  12. Eggs- ravenously delicious--other creatures will drop everything to greedly consume them. If left to rot, they become stink bombs.
  13. Fur/ feathers- incomparably comfortable. Can be turned into a blanket or stuffed into pillows/ bedrolls. Causes extra hp recovery when sleeping on them for a full night.
  14. Musk gland- apply to self, creatures assume you are not humanoid and will ignore your presence.
  15. Horn/ tusks/ ivory- ground into powder and added to spell components to enhance magical effects.
  16. Heart- when consumed adds temporary hp (1d3 doses)
  17. Bile- cures poison, disease & purifies water.
  18. Tear glands- salt from tears wards away spirits, ghosts & demons
  19. Oil/ fat/ blubber- burns twice as hot (x2 damage) and twice as bright (x2 light radius) as lamp fuel
  20. Reproductive organs- cures exhaustion, fatigue, & generates a temporary strength increase.

OSR Hermeneutics: Random Encounters as Oracular Action

The "fortune teller" uses their preferred oracular system (such as the Tarot) to randomly reveal symbols whose surface meaning mus...