Invisible Incomprehensible War
Time to arrange motes of Immaculum In My Aura To Overcome Red Hostiles And Actually Read This Thing
OK, boils and ghouls! While I mock games that just copy D&Disms, I also mock games that sacrifice comprehensibility on the altar of originality. For those wondering which side I’m truly on, remember this:Booty And The Beasts, Part IV
(Some people might note I make snide comments about how supplements like Booty And The Beasts veered heavily into a “screw the players”, highly adversarial mode of play, and then note I make snide comments about how 4e goes out of its way to avoid those types of mechanics, and wonder what side I’m on. It’s easy. I’m on the side of “Lizard wants to make snide comments.”.)
When I generically parody the overly “original”, in the back of my mind, there’s usually a game called “Immortal: The Invisible War”. This has gone through multiple editions, with the third being available for free here. (The site has rendering issues and looks to have last been updated in 2008, so, grab any content you like while you can, kiddies.) This walkthrough, however, is based on the first edition (which is what I found in my tertiary game library), and it exemplifies the essence of the era.
Y’see, kiddies, back in the 90s, White Wolf unleashed horror on the world.
Not vampires and werewolves, or theater nerds invading a genre that was once the province of the STEM nerds (long before anyone knew what ‘STEM’ was), but artsy-fartsy layouts that were hell on those of us with poor color vision, and using all-new made-up words to replace the slightly-older made-up words, following an all-too-common and totally-false belief that if you change the name you call a thing, it will change how people perceive the thing, rather than what actually happens: People simply ascribe all their old perceptions to the new word. (Changing the War Department to the Defense Department didn’t stop the US from going to war, after all.) If you call the GM a “Storyteller”, they don’t become a wise Elder teaching the eager young; they remain swaggering, overbearing, tin-plated dictators with delusions of godhood.
There were a lot of good reasons for White Wolf’s success, such as tapping into a new market when growing the old one was becoming increasingly difficult. Unfortunately, humans have a bad habit of ascribing the wrong cause to an effect. This is the “tying a cape to my neck makes me fly like Superman” fallacy.Many would-be coattail riders unfortunately focused on “changing the vocabulary for common items”. (This was hardly limited to post-Vampire urban horror; one day, I’ll discuss Dangerous Journeys and its Heroic Personas. I suspect some of the DJ nonsense was due to trying to dodge the ridiculous lawsuit TSR brought against Gygax, but that, too, is a topic for another time.) (It may be that pre-WOTC’s habit of spurious litigation threats also drove new game publishers to make their game as unlike D&D as possible, but I think White Wolf was the prime instigator of the “call a combat round a ‘cycle of conflict'” trend.)
“The Sanguinary appears out of the Crucible and is shattered into shards known as conundrum.”
That happened in 65 million BC, by the way. I wish to apologize right now to Star Rovers for ever daring to lovingly snicker at their “jump right in without explanation” opening narrative.
In 400,000 BC, “The Anapheles ride against the Sanguinary’s forces and destroy the Malice Shard.”
And so on, down through the aeons. In 1948, Gandhi (of Pride Eremite) is assassinated for supporting the Celestials. Thought you’d like to know.
Following a very unfortunate tradition begun, or at least popularized, by White Wolf, a ton of setting stuff is contained in paragraphs of fiction, written in the POV of some NPC or gameworld inhabitant. A little bit of flavor text and “quotes” adorning rules sections or mechanic blocks is fine, maybe even 2-3 paragraphs of someone’s journal or notes in a sidebar, but page after page of game fiction to convey core information is awful in any game, in any genre, by any publisher.
But, hey, there’s an actual glossary of terms! This is good, a listing of “what this in-game word means” is… erm… always… uhm… helpful… Well, bugger.
Ain’t no way I’m typing this and I can’t find a free OCR tool to make it text, so, here’s a clip:
So, an Immortal uses “aart” to engage in a venery, which destroys their immaculum. Yes. Very clear. Much helping. This “glossary” is spread over many, many pages, 2-3 terms at a time, each block at the bottom of a page of fiction. Since it’s alphabetical, I assume it’s not describing terms used in the accompanying fiction as they arise. Now, that wouldn’t be bad: Weird words on each page defined both on that page and in a single long list somewhere else. That’s not what’s done here.
Oh, Dear, Not This Again
Do you wish to know the pinnacle of pretension, the summit of smugness, the apex of arrogance? No, it’s not abundant alliteration, though that’s close. It’s “this isn’t just a way to kill time eating Cheetos with your buds, it’s actually about transcending reality itself”, usually paired with “people who play RPGs aren’t just socially inept losers who finally found a structured format that allows them to form bonds and explore human interaction in a safe environment, no, they’re actually superior people whose enlightened ascendance has been blocked by conformist society, and if only that hot cheerleader knew, she’d totally go out with me!”.
(The GM… or narrator, or whatever… is evidently always one of the forgetful immortals, while only some of the players might be. I submit that the determination of who amongst my “cadre” is actually an unaware avatar and who is just some pathetic plebe is determined by who brings me the most Chinese food, as that is the true measure of their awareness of the larger universe beyond themselves.)
Alright, I’m skipping ahead to character creation and now I have an even worse headache. The rules basically say, “Ignore the rules, just start making up a story for your friends and let them discover their characters”. Yeah, yeah, this is still favored among certain segments of the RPG populace, but usually in the context of “after you have some friggin’ clue what you’re doing” not “for your first game”. As players describe their actions, without knowing how the system works, they drain “memory motes” to determine their actual game statistics. Then they run out and need to acquire new motes (lets just call them Character Points) through “involvement in the experience”. In other words, they get more character points for playing the game. Sheesh!
Did I mention the dino-killer meteorite was “the Sanguinary”, “a creature exiled from out of the Crucible”? Well, it was!
I may need to even apologize to Synnibarr for its opening plot summary! Ehh… maybe not. I dunno. Given a choice between “unedited stream-of-consciousness babbling of a six year old hyped up on Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs” (Synnibarr) or “the navel-gazing hyperpretension of someone who read Jung while eating magic mushrooms” (Immortal), who wins? I know who loses – me! ‘Cause I have to read it!
There has to be a basic character creation chapter here somewhere. Doesn’t there?
A Few Words On Aart (or Art)
I’ve noted that much artwork from the primordial age of RPGs was done by This Guy I Know (full name: This Guy I Know, He Did This Bitchin’ Wizard Fightin’ A Dragon on My Cousin’s Van), whose work sadly fell into obscurity by the mid-80s. I am thus pleased to announce that Immortals gave him a new medium in which to work, in the form of “This Guy I Know Who Has A Demo Of This New Thing Called Photoshop That Makes Pictures Look Totally Awesome, Dude!”
(My apologies for the poor quality of the scan; I wasn’t going to push down too hard and risk breaking the spine of this rarity.)
While some of the illustrations are standard drawings of variable (from ‘Meh’ to ‘Whatever’) quality, the bulk of the artwork is photographs modified by “special” (as in Ed) effects. Yes, I am looking back from the lofty perspective of 25 years later. Yes, I am being unfair to someone who was at least trying to do something different from the “let’s just rip off Frazetta and Elmore” standard of the time. I, like life itself, am not fair. The selected image is one of the better ones, if only because in context it is used perfectly reasonably, as part of an “image left page, text right page” setup detailing each “Pride” (clans, tribes, classes….)
Still better than posing action figures, gotta give ’em that.
Himsati (Sanscrit, “he injures”): An aspect of the Immortal soul exemplified by the original animal or element from which we have evolved in our pursuit of the Eidos, the perfect form. The himsati is that feral part of us which, lacking its own purpose, becomes the vessel by which our enemy, the Sanguinary, manifests among us.Just Thought I’d Put This Out There
I have to stop quoting. It’s just there’s so much to quote! If I defined Road Rebels by having a typographical/grammatical error on every page — and I did — I can define Immortal as having pretentious self-important bafflegab on every page. “Immortals whose halos become impure from the incorrect playing of a serenade….” It just goes on and on.
In a moment of wholly uncharacteristic charity, I’ll say that somewhere under this madness is the germ of a good idea, very possibly, several good ideas, all smashed together into one incomprehensible mess. Other games (which I have not played, but upon reading, seem eminently playable), such as Scion and Nobilis, center on the theme of modern day mortals (called ‘Twilights’ in Immortal, thankfully long predating the sparkly vampires, because ‘Mortals’ is an offensive term) awakening to a kind of godhood, and I’m sure there’s many more. While Nobilis definitely dances on the line of “too many original terms chasing too few differences in meaning”, it does so with a certain grace and self-aware humor, such as the GM being termed the Hollyhock God — “Hollyhock”, in the games’ flower-based mythology, is symbolic of vanity.
I keep avoiding the purpose of this post, which is making a character. I offer, as an excuse, that the game itself doesn’t really place this front-and-center, either. There is also so much context to convey to you, the imaginary reader, that you’ll need to make whatever sense is possible of whatever I create, and I don’t have an OCR copy of the rules, so it’s either type in excerpts, or scan and pray One Note can do its very limited OCR magic (a feature I discovered by accident, quite useful in many contexts, but not professional-strength). I sure as hell ain’t buying a commercial OCR tool to support a blog absolutely no one reads.
Right. Let’s At Least Get Started, Then.
Past Gossamers, Ripples, Arks, The Silence…. we reach “Guidance”, which kind of looks like it might be about character creation.
Immortal uses six 10 sided dice, colored red, orange, yellow, blue, green, and violet, plus some optional black, grey, and white dice which are used for a special type of serenade called a warp. I will not mock the multi-colored dice, because I’ve played around a lot with the same concept. I love the idea of extracting maximum information from minimum dice rolls. I will not go into detail on my specific proto-designs, because I am determined to at least start a character.
As to what the dice mean… uhm….
Each colored die represents a set of hostiles, dice that are rolled to achieve a target number of difficulty when your persona’s talents are challenged, usually during combat. When you roll a hostile die, you are representing some sort of interference that arises against you, whether that is the requirement of a certain rank of talent, the presence of pain or poor visibility, slick footing, or a myriad of other situations. more hostiles that are present, the more dice you will roll.
By the way, “A mote of immaculum can be tainted if an immortal rolls a null on any hostile dice while playing serenades”. Once more, thought you’d like to know.
“Motes” would be called your “score” or “dots” (which I guess isn’t any better or worse than ‘motes’, but it had become an accepted term by 1994) in most other games. Motes are of course assigned to the colors of your halo. Or is that immaculum? I’ve read it three times and I’m a little confused. I think ‘mote’ is just a universal measuring mechanic, while ‘immaculum’ is… uh… your attributes? As expressed in your halo? Maybe it’ll make sense later.
For example, a blue visibility hostile (such as fog… because that makes sense, calling ‘fog’ a ‘blue visibility hostile’) would be opposed by your motes of blue immaculum… or something. I think. Maybe. If it matters, 5 motes is mortal (ooh, the ‘m’ word… you should call them ‘Twilights’) maximum, or weak immortal, going up to 15 for an Immortal “on the verge of Eidos”.
Apparently a miracle — or whatever this game calls them, probably ‘apotheosis’ or ‘substantiation of imminence’ — has occurred, because we have a straightforward list of the colors and their meaning. As straightforward as anything beginning with “The strength of each halo color is defined by the amount of immaculum motes placed in them” can be.
Hey, I may get this a little! “Immaculum” is just your character point total, measured in “motes”. You divide your “motes of immaculum” among the colors of your halo, because “Assign points to each attribute” is way too confusing.
- Red – Resolve. Willpower, etc. “Red hostiles” are things that try to control your mind.
- Orange – Force. Physical strength. “Orange hostiles” are things like grappling or exertion beyond the norm.
- Yellow – Expertise. Dexterity, basically. “Yellow hostiles” are things like holding a weapon in the wrong hand or fighting in close quarters.
- Green – Movement. This determines “how much motion your persona enjoys per clash of combat”.
- Blue – Awareness. “Blue hostiles” affect the senses.
- Violet – Resilience. Short version, hit points.
Finally, in one small paragraph, is something resembling the base mechanic: You roll a d10 of the appropriate color(s) against the hostiles, adding any motes of immaculum (points in your attribute) for that color, and also the value of any talent (skill) that may be appropriate. So if you want to pick a lock, which is a “yellow hostile” since it challenges your manual dexterity, you roll a d10 plus your “motes of yellow immaculum” plus your talent (rated in motes, I assume) to beat a difficulty number.
“Roll Attribute + Skill against Difficulty Number” is just too mundane, right?
Well, it’s almost 4:00, I’ve been at this since this morning, and I still haven’t made a character. I did learn you start with 100 motes of memory to assign to talents. Not sure about how you assign motes to your immaculum, but maybe that’s in the offing. Going to end this for the nonce.