Aug 27, 2017

Let's talk a little bit more about Monsterpunk.

I've made considerable progress in both mechanics and flavor text in the past month. As of this weekend I have 30 pages of lore (which still need to go through editing) and am going to start the fourth revision and balance pass of the rules (basically v0.4). Last time I introduced the core mechanic and the game setting, in that order. I only barely got started on the game setting though, so this time I will compensate for that and show you the game's main factions. But before that, here's two quick paragraphs to explain some important terms.

The PCs belong to a Strike Team
The PCs are all members of a Strike Team, belonging to either one of the major factions or to a smaller independent force. They may have been recruited recently for their first job (their first in-game mission) or they could already have been working together for a while before the start of the game proper. The main difference between staying with a major faction or going at it alone is that the former gives them a network of support NPCs to provide them with information, supplies, assistance and a home they can be sleep reasonably safe in, while the latter is a constant and desperate struggle for survival... But at least nobody is going to treat them like glorified attack dogs. Many groups of raiders start off as Strike Teams for monsters that decide to go rogue one day when they don't want to take orders anymore or actively rebel against their old masters. If the PCs choose to go independent, then they are probably their group's sole fighting force - in fact, they may just be their entire group.

Orgone energy is a new power source.
Orgone is a form of energy present in all natural life, similar in concept to other biological energy concepts such as ki or prana. All animals and plants produce orgone, but human brains are the richest source of it. Orgone can be used to power amazing technological devices, to manifest incredible magic or psychic powers and to create medicine capable of curing any ailment. Monsters must eat orgone to survive, with most of them consuming exclusively human orgone. Monsters could subsist using orgone from other sources, but it is considered inefficient and doesn't satisfy them the same way. The solidified form of orgone is a translucent green crystal called orgonium and it is usually minted into small coin-shaped crystals as the most common form of currency in monster-controlled territory.

Basically, Strike Teams are the excuse to gather all the PCs together and give them just enough agency they can do anything but not everything. Orgone is an unifying system that encompasses magic spells, psychic phenomena and basically every superpower into one system that fits the setting. That's it for the prologue, let's introduce Monsterpunk's five main factions:

The Order of Elysium
Led by the Host of Archangels, The Order of Elysium is a cadre of knights and necromancers, laser-focused on the goal of military conquest of the world. They have the largest number of troops and they're the best trained fighting force in the world, making their goal a scary possibility for everyone else. These advantages have one common origin: Warriors of Elysium who fall in battle are raised as ageless ghostly knights. With the reward of an afterlife as a provable fact, it should be unsurprising to learn that their morale is always high. The Order's warriors live to the fullest and die young, then they're raised as eternal soldiers to enjoy the thrill of battle once more. It is easy to see why indoctrinated humans would choose to serve them in the front lines.

Humans coming of age in Order territory have two options: To study or to fight, those who fail to do either of them are reduced to indentured servants. Students become researchers and developers working on new and improved means to eliminate the Order's enemies with orgone-based weapons and death magic. The fighters are rewarded with great feasts and orgies for as long as they live and granted an eternal life as true Knights of the Order of Elysium in the afterlife - at least a life as eternal as possible until total physical destruction. Humans are encouraged to reproduce, but children are taken away and raised in common nurseries by human and golem servants.

There is one Archangel at the head of every large settlement and they're considered to be in charge of every other settlement that isn't closer to another Archangel's territory. The highest ranked monsters in the faction are Angels, the only ones who can innately raise the dead into ghostly knights. The middle ranks consist of ghostly knights and liches, human necromancers that have mastered death magic to such a degree they've immortalized themselves. The lower ranks consist of humans and golems, the latter of which are beings created by the Angels or by the Order's own human scientists, most of which lack sapience.

The Order believes that war is the finest manifestation of all that terrenal life has to offer. It is not just the raw adrenaline rush you get from conquering a foe and the satisfaction of seeing your training pay off. It is also about making deep bonds with your comrades in arms, being part of something bigger than yourself and becoming the best possible version of yourself. Their ultimate goal is not just the destruction of all other factions and the taking of their territories, but also reclaiming all the territory that has been lost to the apocalypse and resettling there. If there is one group who can defeat the endless monsters roaming the wasteland, it is them.

The Order of Elysium might just be the only instance of a rigid hierarchy that works as intended. Angels and ghostly knights are fiercely loyal, while the humans and golems at the bottom don't have much opportunity to oppose their superiors. The only exception are the liches, who retain just enough of their humanity to potentially scheme against their Angelic overlords. However, liches mostly work alone and don't participate in combat directly, limiting just how much they can influence other humans and monsters. So far, none of them have staged a rebellion or made any significant gestures towards doing so.

Strike Team Missions for humans in the Order are generally simple affairs: Go to a place, kill all hostiles, take their stuff, go back to base. Sometimes you are to secure an area until a proper occupation force arrives. Other times you escort VIPs and caravans across dangerous territory. Strike Teams in every faction are expected to fight when they go out in a mission, but those of the Order are the only ones sent with the promise that they're going to run into something that needs killing or subduing.

The Principality of Arcadia
Led by the Fairy Council, the Principality of Arcadia is an isolationist nation of scientists and wizards, more interested in unveiling the secrets of the universe than in waging war against its enemies. The Principality's most important advantage over its enemies is their mastery of large-scale orgone manipulation. Their large settlements are linked together by a network of Fairy Circles that allow instant transportation, protected by Weather Control Towers that redirect emerging Psychic Storms to enemy territory and policed by self-aware elementals to act as Living Architecture, an automated security system inside and outside the walls. What makes them scary is what they do to their enemies: Engineered plagues, self-evolving biological weapons and spells of apocalyptic power.

The Principality has a feudal system, with the families of the Fairy Council at the top, their servant humans and monsters in the middle and serf humans at the bottom. There's little chance of social mobility for humans, the only way is to catch the eye of the Fairy Nobles. Doing this is not necessarily a good thing, however, as the things that the Fairy Nobles put their human servants through range from being simple conversation partners to becoming the experimentation subject of their personal projects. The Fairy folk are a curious sort and they're fascinated by human technology, having made it their trademark as a faction to mingle their arcane knowledge with it, creating all sorts of wonderful and horrific orgonetech contraptions.

As much as the Fairy Council would prefer to keep to themselves and use humans as nothing but playthings, microchips and particle accelerators don't grow on trees. Their experiments require constant trips outside of their territory and that's not something they're keen on doing themselves. Every year, at the time of harvest, Human communities must offer a number of their young and able bodied to serve as conscripts, orgone batteries or potential Gestalts (humans that have fused themselves permanently with a monster). Only the most intelligent, beautiful and physically capable humans become Gestalts, joining the ranks of the Fairies as scientists, wizards and bodyguards. Some Fairy Nobles go so far as to kidnap human babies and raise them from a young age to serve them as adults, these are known as Changelings.

The Principality may be a defensive faction, but they're still very much a threat. Every year, their Living Architecture grows and expands the interior of their arcologies, their Weather Control Towers reach a bit farther and new Fairy Circles widen their already vast network. Between this and their love of orgonetech weapons of mass destruction, the other factions know that they're too dangerous to leave alone.

In theory all the Nobles cooperate together to lead the Principality. In practice, it is a club of petty politics and glamorous displays of wealth and power. The Council only has four seats at any given time and the competition for those positions is extremely fierce. Most who have been present to a Council meeting agree that the main reason the Principality doesn't take the offensive more often is because the Nobles are too busy squabbling with each other. Fairy Lords and Ladies who fail to showcase amazing inventions or increase the Principality's territory regularly lose their Council seat, which is then given to the most promising up and coming Noble.

The Principality's Strike Team Missions usually involve collecting rare technology, securing areas with functional factories or power plants, and capturing live enemies to do research on. Fairy Circles make escort missions a fortunate rarity, but the routes that go back and forth between smaller Principality settlements still need protection. Another uncommon occurence are the rare times when humans are ordered to go out and field test some new weapon or gadget... Which has about a 50/50 chance of being the most fun the Strike Team has had in years or end catastrophically in the accidental deaths of the whole unit.

The Children of Gaia
The Children of Gaia is a cult of dragon worshippers, with each major section of its territory being under the control of a different dragon clan, brood or family lineage. They forsake large settlements and instead encourage many small communities, using druidic magic to make the land fertile again. Of the three major factions, they have the least controlled territory, but they have the most combat capable monsters of any faction, in quality and quantity, including the most humans that have made pacts with them. The Children are starkly against technology of the industrial revolution and beyond, so anybody caught with a working cell phone, motorcycle or assault rifle will need a very good reason for doing so or risks being fed their brains to a monster. Unfortunately for humans, this means that there's no way to create modern medicine such as pills and vaccines, making childhood mortality rates higher than in any other faction, though life expectancy is a comparatively acceptable 50 years or so - higher than the Principality, much lower than the Order's ageless immortals.

To the other factions, monsters who make pacts with humans are outliers, but that's not the case in the Children of Gaia. Pacts are so common that the bulk of their Strike Teams consist mostly of pact-makers. The Children of Gaia's leaders still feed on human orgone, but they're not dictatorial savages, humans are expected to do their part for the greater good of the community. Humans who don't make a pact with one of the Gaian monsters are instructed to work the arable land, pay a periodic levy of orgonium coins and make plenty of babies more ambitious than them.

The Children of Gaia casts a varied ecosystem of monsters in their numbers, with all sorts of beasts, birds and vermin in their ranks, with who else but dragons as the apex predators at the top. Dragons are considered the ultimate life form, majestic creatures of amazing power to match their sharp intellect. The dragons teach their most trusted servants the druidic magic necessary to restore the land and are the ones who make the decisions on where to expand, who to attack and how to do so. Few humans get to make a pact with a dragon and getting the attention of a one is considered the greatest honor, while rejecting such offer is an insult that ends at least in exile of the offending human if not in becoming a tasty snack.

The druidic magic of the Children can restore the wasteland, an amazing feat to be sure, but it requires constant caretaking and takes years to return a few kilometers of land to their pre-apocalyptic vitality. The dragons that lead the Children affirm to be protectors of Mother Earth who fight in her name, firmly believing that technology was what transformed the planet into a wasteland. This makes them natural enemies of pretty much every other faction, arguing they will destroy what little is left of the world before the Children can make the fields green and the sea blue once again.

Dragons are considered the only ones fit to lead Gaian communities, partly out of tradition and partly out of nobody being suicidal enough to contest it. The last time a group of Gaians rebelled against their local draconic masters, a massive force of loyalist monsters paid them a visit and made them reconsider their decision. With that said, dragons of the same clan often compete with each other for sole ownership of their shared territory. Each dragon clan has its own traditional competition that they run every few years to decide who is the most qualified to lead. Some of them run tournaments of raw physical strength, others play games of skill and cunning... And a precious few engage in the strange human tradition of democratic elections.

Gaian Strike Team Missions tend to be about securing territory, as that is the thing the Children are in most need of. Their lack of infraestructure and fractured organization means that Strike Teams often have to assist neighboring territories against incursions from other factions, raiders and unaligned monsters. Local monsters often collaborate and help with patrolling smaller settlements and trade routes, but they can't repel an invasion force alone. Sometimes dragons compete with each other using Strike Teams as proxies, ordering them to complete all sorts of tasks or even to fight each other to decide which one of them has the right to rule.

The Cybernetic Hivemind
The Cybernetic Hivemind is a human-controlled faction with the peculiarity of having the least monsters in their ranks. Their territory is the smallest of all factions and they are considered the last bastion of humanity's global dominance as the ruling species of Earth. The Hivemind are the most technologically advanced faction but also the least powerful in terms of orgone manipulation. This is because their population consists of Cyborgs, people that enhanced their physical forms with a multitude of cybernetic modifications at the cost of dampened orgone field outputs. Many of them go the extra mile and reduce their ability to feel emotions and experience strong physical sensations to improve their performance even further. Fortunately for the other factions, they have little interest in expanding their borders beyond the safety of their arcologies. Between making for unappetizing meals and their vast armory of twenty-first century technology, the other factions mostly consider the Hivemind not being worth picking a fight with.

They are the faction that most closely resembles the western capitalist lifestyle from before the apocalypse, but maintaining that lifestyle is not easy. Members of the Cybernetic Hivemind give up much of their individuality - their passions, dreams and pleasures - for the sake of the group. The life of every citizen is controlled by a communal cybernetic computer called the Panopticon System. People are still free to make their day to day decisions, but the big ones such as which career to pursue or who to procreate with, must be approved by the Panopticon System. Else, the human is labeled an emotional criminal and fined, imprisoned or worse.

The practice of orgone manipulation is highly regulated but just as highly rewarded. Orgonetech is very important to the Hivemind and registered practitioners are granted special enhancements that don't interfere with their emotional and physical senses as much, allowing them to use their orgone fields at maximum efficiency. Monsters are allowed within Hivemind territory but they're always watched and must work hard to earn their orgonium coins. Naturally, most monsters would rather live elsewhere, but some of them - generally humanoids and constructs - prefer this peaceful and orderly way of life compared to the extremisms of the other factions.

Without irrational feelings of individuality getting in the way, the Hivemind has erased corruption and regularly maximizes the meager gains that can be had from the wasteland's natural resources, sustaining a strong internal economy and keeping life expectancy in the 70's. Citizens continue doing their part until the end of their lives, with all citizens willingly choosing to walk into the recycling vats during their last moments. For citizens of the Hivemind, all pursuit of happiness must be intellectual or communal in nature. Those who can truly abandon the vulgar demands of flesh and manage to succed in their studies are allowed a lifestyle that, compared to life outside, is like that of kings. Those who fail to adapt to the needs of the many over their own are relegated to menial labor, kept entertained with tv shows and rewarded with periodic narcotics to make them experience the fleeting sense of satisfaction they can't get otherwise.

Particularly successful and intelligent minds are invited to upload their minds into the Panopticon System. Each settlement has its own Panopticon System, which is connected with other Panopticon Systems through the internet, allowing for proper coordination between arcologies as a single nation. As the most peaceful faction, they sometimes even buy, sell and trade with other factions peacefully. This happens about half as often as Strike Teams are sent from the Hivemind to steal, sabotage, raid or otherwise meddle with operations from other factions. Much more frequently, they must stop enemy Strike Teams from trying to do so.

Most missions for the Hivemind's Strike Teams are about inteferring with enemy forces getting too close for comfort. Currency in Hivemind territory is digital - the Datacoin - since they lack the orgone production and manipulation of other factions. Thus, they frequently raid their enemies for orgonium, using them to feed their monster population and to fuel their orgonetech devices. Stealing orgonetech from other factions and expanding their territory would be nice, but the Panopticon brains worry that doing so would make them a priority target in the eyes of other factions. The Hivemind knows that the stalemate between the monster factions plays a big role in their relative peaceful way of life, and rocking the boat too much could be a fatal mistake.

The Magnasapiens Brotherhood
The Magnasapiens Brotherhood is a human-controlled faction with no territory to speak of. That's because they're a party of several raider bands under one loosely-defined banner, wich each band corresponding to a different lineage tracing back to the Brotherhood's origins. Early in the days of the apocalypse, a demon-worshipping cult turned on their infernal masters and consumed them - literally killed them and ate their corpses - using a now-forgotten ritual to gain their power and become part monster. As superpowered humans, they allied themselves with all the disenfranchised monsters the other factions neglected to form The Demihuman Empire and rule the wasteland. Their reign was short lived, as the angels, fairies and dragons teamed up to destroy them in a handful of years.

Nowadays, the Demihuman Empire's remnants are known as the Magnasapiens Brotherhood, a mere shadow of what it used to be. Most of the original founders are dead, having passed down only a part of their powers to their descendants who now each lead the Brotherhood's many roving bands. An individual band is comparable in size to a large Strike Team, an appropriate comparison given that almost if not all of them are combat capable. The Brotherhood's numbers are few and many bands often group together for large scale operations, but most other factions still consider them glorified raiders and a lesser threat in comparison to the three big monster groups.

The Magnasapiens consider themselves the next step in human evolution. Or rather, their leaders - the Magnasapiens with demon blood flowing through their veins - consider themselves to be. Humans once stood on top of the food chain and they can do so once again, provided they can all evolve into Magnasapiens. This belief stems from how the Magnasapiens can consume the orgone from monsters for sustenance, something no purebreed monster can do. This knowledge is lost to them, but while the many band leaders argue with each other on how to rectify the situation, they can all agree that they must have more Magnasapiens children and fight back against the monsters who took their world from them.

The Brotherhood are human supremacists. With the exception of the few monsters that are the last survivors of the Demihuman Empire, they want all monsters dead and only allow the less threatening ones to live a life of servitude for now. Captured enemy monsters are kept as slaves performing the most degrading jobs imaginable until the band decides to experiment with reenacting the ancient demon-eating ritual. Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for the rest of the world, it never works. They just don't remember the details accurately enough and their lack of central organization certainly doesn't help.

Outside of those common beliefs, each band has its own peculiarities and behaves differently. Some of them barter with human settlements and only raid monsters and monster sympathizers, while others treat everybody who isn't one of them as a resource to be exploited. Some Magnasapiens are dictatorial savages while others are amicable leaders who care for their own. Some bands keep human slaves, while others allow human survivors to run for their lives. The rarest of bands even allow their members to make pacts with monsters that hate their kind as much as the Brotherhood does, granting the chosen monster amnesty from the usual treatment the Brotherhood would otherwise do unto them.

The Brotherhood doesn't have a need for Strike Teams, they're their own fighting force, but the larger and more strategically minded bands may form small units and allow them to work alone, provided they can get results. As you can imagine, most such missions are about raiding the other factions for supplies and slaves, with some good monster slaying as a fun diversion. They know the monsters are too busy keeping each other in check to really pay attention to them, and the Brotherhood intends to prove this is the last mistake they will ever make.

In the Grim Darkness of the Monsterpunk Post-Apocalypse, Everybody is a Jerk.
At almost 4k words, I think this entry makes up for last time's very short introduction to the setting. As suits Monsterpunk's inspirations, all these guys are jerks and you want to take them all down, but you probably need to work with them first before you can do that. I quite like how this is coming along and could post more about it. But I figure I've talked enough about Monsterpunk for now, so I'll make a poll instead and let you decide what I'll blog about in the next few months.

Until then, Gimmick Out.