Eldritch Skies by Halloween Jack
IntroductionOriginal SA post
“It is 2030. The Gilman-Hawking drive has given us access to the stars. But we are not alone.
They're out there: aliens, gods and monsters. They're also down here. The Miskatonic Antarctic Expedition found the elder ones' city in 1931. The mi-go crashed in Roswell in 1947.
In 1958, as quietly as possible, not knowing what we were doing, we bent occult powers to our hands and took the step to Mars. The third time, the men who made that step could not step back. We fled back into our cave for a while.
But rocketry, and the Soviets, brought us back out soon enough. Competition took us to the moon. Uneasy teamwork saved the astronauts who would have died there among cyclopean, immemorial ruins.
In 1994, human scientists cracked alien technology and overcame the lightspeed barrier. They brought us the stars. They also brought us the madness that lies between them, the mind-twisting undarkness of hyperspace.
The future is here. Machine-made telepathy, augmentations, and unprecedented levels of automation have changed the face of Earth. But the science of sorcery, and our primitive understandings of what lies outside, have changed more than our minuscule planet. They've begun to let humanity out.
We walk amongst giants. Tread carefully.”
Eldritch Skies’s introduction chapter bills it as a game of “somewhat cinematic Lovecraftian SF,” featuring “heroes defending the Earth and its off-world colonies from the monsters and foes of the Cthulhu Mythos.” Although there just...something about the art and layout of the game that gives me the impression that Eldritch Skies is an OSRish game like Stars Without Number, its rules engine is the Unisystem, which you may know from Eden Studios games like Witchcraft, Conspiracy X, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Army of Darkness. I wouldn’t count on a Slayer option or a Getting Medieval skill.
Eldritch Skies quickly gets into defending its premise--but not yet. In fact, the book starts with a short story called “Vectors.” The protagonist is Connie Gilman, a brilliant cutting-edge research scientist stuck in the worst work environment this side of a sweatshop. She’s part of “Barlington’s Boys,” a corporate research projected headed by a smug, cigar-chewing asshole named Barlington. The pay sucks, she works long hours, and the treatment her boss and her coworkers give her for daring to be a woman, black, and a scientist would get them burnt at the stake by most corporate HR departments. As it is, she’s willing to put up with it because her work is incredibly fascinating and she can’t do it anywhere else--the team’s job is to reverse-engineer recovered alien technology.
While working long nights, popping pills and subsisting on crappy fast-food to get through the day, Connie starts dreaming of attending a conference presided over by Nyarlathotep, a powerful, competent woman with perfect hair, perfect clothes, a perfect voice, and a flawless porcelain-like body. The next night, she has a dream about the time her parents allowed her to visit a mental hospital to see her grandmother. In the dream, her grandmother’s empty eyesockets are bleeding, but the blood floats and trails off in numerous threads. Connie’s grandmother tells her that she can follow the threads of “blood family” to claim her birthright, and Connie begins seeing history through the perspectives of her ancestors--an ancient Egyptian overseer, an American slaveholder beating the slave who’s pregnant with his child, the slave herself, her grandmother taking part in secret cult rituals...
Connie wakes up with a sudden revelation. She can perceive new patterns in the seemingly random data she’s been receiving. More importantly, she can now penetrate the central conundrum of her research--how do you reverse-engineer technology when you can’t understand the intentions of the completely alien mind that built it in the first place? Now she can.
Connie makes another bold move and returns the call of a government agent who’s been hounding her for information. She immediately stages a coup, and Barlington is out on his ass as all the team’s work is seized and placed under the auspices of the U.S. Bureau of Xenological Investigations, who are willing to place Connie in charge and give her the team of mathematicians she needs to continue her work. A note tells us that she completed the Gilman Velocity Multiplication Drive the same year.
The introduction begins with more fiction, in the form of a very short piece called “La Maison Dieu.” If you’re a Lovecraft nerd like me, it’s obvious that it’s a Yithian trying to explain his perspective. “I am, and am not, Christopher Gunning.” The Yithian possesses Christopher’s body in order to observe a crucial time of change, so that the knowledge won’t be lost. The Yithian acknowledges that this ruins Christopher’s life and gets him committed to a mental hospital every time he returns to his own body, but the Yithians don’t care--humankind needs the “answers” which Christopher brings back with him from living and studying in a Yithian body. From his perspective, both he and Christopher are serving “that-which-is-necessary.”
Now that the fiction has been dispensed with, Eldritch Skies begins with its “what is roleplaying section,” which comes by way of explaining the roles of everyone involved. The players control Heroes (that tells you something about the tone of the game), the referee is the Director, neutral or helpful NPCs are called Guest Stars, and antagonists are called Adversaries. A game session is an Episode, a number of sequential Episodes dealing with a central plot is a Season, and multiple Seasons make up a Series.
The intro does tell you that the game uses the Unisystem, and that you need d10s (or playing cards) and maybe some poker chips to keep track of things.
Eldritch Skies begins explaining its premise by pointing out that in the 1920s and 30s, bookstores didn’t have “Horror,” “Fantasy,” and “Science Fiction” labels that divvied up speculative fiction by genre. It points to several Lovecraft stories like “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and “Dreams in the Witch-House” that meld science fiction and horror,” and notes that Lovecraft borrowed elements like Chambers’ The King in Yellow and Howard’s serpent-men for use in his own stories. (It considers “The Shadow Out of Time” a science fiction tale, but I’d have thrown it in the sci-fi/horror pot, along with “The Colour Out of Space” for good measure.)
“Lovecraftian SF” means looking at the Cthulhu Mythos from a primarily science-fiction perspective. Aliens are people, whose mindset might be hopelessly inscrutable or might be shockingly like our own, as in the case of the Elder Race. “Magic” is the use of advanced science and mathematics to affect spacetime through intentionality. The forces of the universe are pitiless, but sentient beings can survive and develop starfaring civilizations. Eldritch Skies also extrapolates from the events of Lovecraft’s stories--the FBI attacked the Deep One city of Y’ha’nthlei* in 1928, and the events of “At the Mountains of Madness” happened in 1931, and over the next few decades, governments discovered the existence of aliens and even discovered alien artifacts and harnessed them to develop new technology. In this setting, humankind began making faster-than-light voyages in 1990, and psychic powers are now everyday phenomena.
*They don't actually invoke the name, but I'm such a nerd I didn't have to look that up. How pathetic am I?
Here’s where they show they’ve done their homework: the writers point out that while some of Lovecraft’s indicate impending doom for the human race, the protagonist of “The Shadow Out of Time” mentions conversing with a 26th century scientist, a 50th century philosopher, and a wizard from the 160th century, so while humankind might have to face extinction eventually, this might not happen for many thousands of years.
Eldritch Skies is also “cinematic SF,” insofar as it’s focused on heroic characters doing action-movie stuff, though not necessarily tongue-in-cheek or over-the-top. Apparently it has three modes of play: Gritty Realism ( Alien , Battlestar Galactica ), Cinematic ( Babylon 5, Stargate SG-1 ), and High-Action Pulp ( Farscape, Star Wars , the Riddick movies). In any case, combat is deadly and characters can never just stomp all over a dangerous alien while spouting a cheesy one-liner. Being willing to lay down your lives to protect humanity from an alien threat is part of the concept of the game, and I see a lot of potential to tell Event Horizon style sci-fi horror stories with this game.
Eldritch Skies is set in the year 2030. Between 1900-1950, several governments started discovering the secret truths of the Cthulhu mythos. The public has known for about 40 years now that the a multitude of sentient alien species exist, and some of these species have visited Earth. Humanity is now using reverse-engineered alien technology to travel to and colonize worlds that are light years away, and psychic powers and “hyperspatial sorcery” are common phenomena. Here’s a rundown of important setting elements:
Hyperspace : This is a catch-all term for the many other universes that overlap or run parallel to our own. It’s possible to travel through them, and as a rule they have radically different physical laws (and inhabitants). “Shortcuts” through hyperspace are a means of FTL travel.
Hyperspatial beings can cross into our universe when certain spatial and gravitational alignments are correct, i.e. “when the stars are right.” The Permian-Triassic extinction event was caused by Great Cthulhu crossing into our universe. Most hyperspatial entities are harmless, but nonetheless, the governments of Earth maintain a worldwide network of dimensional sensors to monitor and control people looking into hyperspace.
Hyperspatial Exposure : Interacting with hyperspace has a nasty tendency to warp your mind and body. The most alien and potent hyperspatial energies transform people into insane mutants with completely alien minds--this is what created twisted offshoots of humanity like Deep Ones and ghouls.
Hyperspatial sorcery : Both concentrated effort and advanced electronic devices can manipulate hyperspatial energy to warp reality in a process that looks like “magic” to the untrained eye. Any sufficiently advanced plot device is indistinguishable from giving your game a wizard class, blah blah blah.
Psychic powers : Psychic phenomena are as old as humankind, but by 2030 it’s actually a respected academic discipline and professional psychics play an important role in business and law. If you haven’t read The Demolished Man , go do that before you finish reading this post. It’s not a long book. Get to it. Scientists believe that almost every sentient species except humanity is innately psychic, but we have a sort of psychic and hyperspatial “blindness” that limits our abilities but also protects us from being warped by hyperspace or psychic phenomena.
The Dream Realm : Some psychics are beginning to explore the Dreamlands in a methodical way, traveling through the collective unconscious. Notice that I didn’t specify the collective human unconscious. You really don’t want to go traipsing through a ghoul’s id.
Next time, on Eldritch Skies : Chapter One, the setting of the game and the Secret History of Earth. Ooh, I’m going to reread the first volume of Planetary just to get geared up for this.
Eldritch PastOriginal SA post
Chapter 1, Part 1: The Eldritch Past
A brief interlude: in the winter of 1927-1928, the Federal government investigated the town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts. Then they conducted a series of raids and arrests, and demolished a huge number of buildings along its waterfront. Less curious people wrote it off as an extreme case of the government battling a bootlegging organization, but inquiring minds noticed that the town was practically depopulated and many of the people arrested were never publicly tried nor heard from again.
The world of Eldritch Skies is a far more upstanding one than our own, because in this world, the government responded to the complaints of liberal groups by actually taking their representatives for secret conferences and tours of the camps and prisons. In the aftermath, all those civil rights groups went quiet, presumably because they were pretty much okay with the government cracking down on Cthulhu-worshiping fishmen who want to fuck their daughters.
Chapter 1 opens with another half-page of fiction, about a pilot who rescues his ship from disaster when the hyperspatial shields fail. He immediately springs into action and begins making adjustments, ignoring the warping of reality that’s taking place while he tries to save the ship. He restores the shields and saves his crew, but at a cost--he realizes he’s been horribly mutated by the hyperspatial energy. (This “fiction, then more fiction, then the actual chapter content” pattern is odd.)
After the fiction, Eldritch Skies explains the secret history of planet Earth, best summarized here in the form of a timeline:
620 million yBP : The Elder Ones , the barrel-shaped alien race from “At The Mountains of Madness,” colonize Earth in the late Precambrian, and begin genetically engineering landborne plants. They spend hundreds of millions of years observing earthly evolution from their cities, and occasionally directing it by engineering lifeforms which create competition.
600 million yBP : The Elder Ones create the shoggoths , semi-sentient biological robots capable of a multitude of tasks.
265 million yBP : Great Cthulhu and his spawn come out of hyperspace to invade the earth. The “Cthulhoids” cause the “Middle Permian Extinction” by feeding on the psychic energies of many lifeforms, destroying their minds. The Elder Ones and the Cthulhoids go to war. Thousands of Elder Ones are killed by a psychic onslaught. After 20,000 years of war, an uneasy truce leaves the Cthulhoids in control of Pangaea and the Elder Ones in control of the oceans and islands.
258 million yBP : The flying polyps have arrived on earth and used hyperspatial energy to transform a castoff fungal lifeform, originally created by the Elder Ones, into a semi-intelligent species of servants and food.
255 million yBP : The Great Race of Yith forms an alliance with the Elder Ones, because it turns out the fungal creatures are ideal hosts for their time-traveling minds. After a 500-year war, the Elder Ones and the Yithians imprison the flying polyps underground.
250 million yBP : The Yithians and the Elder Ones ally to create The Elder Weapon. When the Cthulhoids discover its existence, it kicks off a 250,000 year war that human geologists know as the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event. Between the damage caused by both sides’ weaponry and the Cthulhoids going into a psychic feeding frenzy to fuel their powers, over 90% of life on earth is driven to extinction. Finally, the Elder Ones are able to activate the Elder Weapon, which blasts the Cthulhoids into the deepest reaches of hyperspace.
(Note: I think they’re confused about extinction events. Olson’s Extinction is dated to about 270 million yBP, and the Permian-Triassic Extinction happened about 252 million yBP, so they’re not too far off on the timeframe--but the “Middle Permian Extinction” is the same thing as the P-Tr extinction.)
Soon after, the mi-go arrive on Earth. They can only inhabit the highest altitudes, but they want to mine minerals and harvest biological agents. They spend the next hundred million going back and forth between trading, raiding, and warring with the Yithian-elder alliance.
200 million yBP : The mi-go destroy one of the largest Elder One cities with a directed comet strike, killing over a million Elder Ones. The Elder Ones have by now lost the ability to travel through space, and are forced into a treaty with the mi-go. Their culture becomes extremely xenophobic.
80 million yBP : The serpent people appear, and spend millions of years contesting control of the land with the Yithians as the Elder Ones retreat to the oceans or the Antarctic.
65 million yBP : The Yithians send their minds 230 million years into the future, avoiding the Cretaceous extinction event. The Elder Ones enter a dark age, and the serpent people flee underground.
25 million yBP : Intelligent shoggoths rise up and destroy the last remnants of Elder One civilization.
41,000 yBP : An empire of serpent people rules over primitive humankind. Runaway slave populations who inhabit caverns mutant into the first ghouls.
27,000 yBP : Humanity overthrows the empire of the serpent people, who flee underground again. Thus begins the Thurian age, a civilization in which humans utilize magic and alien artifacts.
24,000 yBP : The most recent ice age ends the Thurian civilization. (Glaciation is way too complex a topic for me to fact-check them on this.) Several thousand ancient Africans use magic to create the first space colony on a distant planet, Galatea I.
10,000 yBP : With the exception of hidden mi-go outposts, Earth is now firmly under the control of humankind.
5,000 yBP : Early humans discover R’lyeh. A hyperspatial fluctuation temporarily increases Cthulhu’s psychic influence, and mutates these humans into the first Deep Ones.
That’s it for the ancient prehistory of the Mythos. Aside from a bit of geologic buggery here and there, I think they did a fine job. However, I’m only just now realizing that there’s very little art in this book, and it makes me a sad Pickman.
Next time, on Eldritch Skies : Chapter 1, Part 2: The Mythos Present, covering the discovery of the mythos during the 20th century, and the current disposition of the regions and governments of the world in the 21st.
The Mythos PresentOriginal SA post
Chapter 1, Part 2: The Mythos Present
Humankind has been experiencing hyperspatial and psychic phenomena for thousands of years, but for most of history, studying them was the province of sorcerers and cultists who had no fucking clue what they were doing. Scientific study of this stuff didnt come about until the 20th century, after humans began rediscovering alien artifacts.
After the disastrous Dyer Antarctic expedition, the U.S. and other governments began seriously conducting alien archaeology. The Americans formed the Bureau of Xenological Investigation and the British formed the Secret Research Service to investigate sites around the world. Unfortunately, the first country to make use of alien technology was Nazi Germany, who conducted their own Antarctic expedition in 1938 and gutted an undiscovered ruin in order to build a wonder-weapon called Überverwüstung. It means something like super-devastator.)
How the mi-go really killed the dinosaurs.
No, not that. They were machines which required a trained sorcerer to operate, and which always killed the operator in use. They were horrific hyperspatial disruptor weapons that killed living things and laid waste to land, but ultimately, they killed less than a thousand Allied troops--good suicidal Nazi wizards are hard to find.
A few years after WWII, the world powers could no longer keep a lid on the existence of aliens. The US, UK, and Australian governments revealed the existence of alien ruins in Antarctica and the Australian desert, but they stressed that the aliens had all died out with the dinosaurs and denied any modern-day contact with aliens. (That was a lie--they knew the shoggoths were still active, and a mi-go had just crashed his ship at Roswell in 1947.)
By 1949, they were actively scouring the world for alien artifacts, and were even willing to work with the Soviets on certain projects. At the same time, the Cold War was going on as strong as ever in the form of research into psychic powers. Soviet and American psychics spent the 50s and 60s conducting espionage against one another, the US government began revealing the truth about psychic phenomena in the late 60s, and by the early 1980s it was a respected field of academic study.
Discovering the existence of alien life had a considerable effect on the culture of developed nations in the mid-20th century. Major Christian and Islamic authorities declared that the aliens were actually demons and that major governments had made demonic pacts. (Seriously, writers?) Most people, though, were just increasingly uncomfortable with the knowledge that their governments had possession of alien artifacts and probably a great many secrets about alien life which they werent revealing to the public. This all came to head around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, when a lot of previously classified information about alien archaeology and hyperspatial and psychic research was revealed. In 1988, a ton of Western incumbent politicians whod had access to this classified information were thrown out on their asses. On the other hand, when the United Nations revealed that it had long had an Office of Paranormal Security which it had only kept secret under orders from the nations on the UN Security Council, many people felt much more confident in a relatively disinterested agency investigating alien phenomena, which only increased when the UN gave journalists unprecedented access to OPS activities.
During the 1990s, the popularity and importance of psychic powers exploded, since methods for training psychic powers were no longer government secrets. The media featured psychic celebrities and many programs based around psychic characters; more importantly, something called a link crown (which Im sure the book will explain 200 pages from now) became acceptable as evidence in court, and was even used to record full-sensory psychic movies that became popular with the public.
The Secret Space Race
When they discovered that the mi-go were still visiting the Earth, the superpowers kinda freaked out and became very eager to find ways to explore other planets and make contact with alien life. Publicly, they were very interested in the positive publicity that came from sending a rocket to the moon. Privately, the idea of using a controlled explosion to blast yourself out of one atmosphere and into another was a stupid idea compared to using a hyperspatial portal to just walk there.
Both the Soviets and the US were basing their hyperspatial travel experiments on the posthumously published notes of mathematician Walter Gilman (the protagonist of Dreams in the Witch-House). The problem with hyperspatial travel is that you either need a sorcerer (thats a technical term) to be part of the team that goes through, or for someone on the team to maintain psychic contact with the sorcerer--otherwise, the portal will probably appear miles away from where you intended. The US conducted its first manned mission to Mars through a hyperspatial portal in 1958. The next year, an entire team was lost when the cavern they were exploring collapsed, and for unknown reasons, the sorcerer who tried to port them home instead sent them to an unknown, probably fatal destination. (Does anyone else smell a campaign seed?) That was the last hyperspatial expedition for more than a decade.
Operation Paperclip was much the same in this setting as in the real world--except that Wernher von Braun had been one of the engineers of the Überverwüstung, and had advanced knowledge of chemistry learned from alien ruins. He helped the US build an atomic rocket which allowed them to reach the moon in 1966. Three years later, they explored Yithian ruins on the moon. This story has a sort-of happy ending--when the astronauts were stranded due to a damaged lunar module, the Soviets offered to rescue them but didnt have the fuel or space to carry them home. The two countries worked together to create a hyperspatial portal, but to cover the existence of hyperspatial research, they revealed the existence of the Yithian ruins to the public, but claimed that they got home because they found a hyperspatial portal in the ruins. The Americans and Soviets subsequently worked together to build a permanent lunar base, which is still in use today.
The US had been working on hyperspatial ships ever since one of them fell into their laps, complete with dead mi-go action figure, at Roswell. They spent decades developing vessels that only worked under controlled conditions, but by 1981, they had usable vessels that could travel at 1.2 million kph, allowing humankind to travel the solar system without using risky hyperspatial gates. By 1994, humanity had made the mathematical breakthroughs necessary to travel 2,000 times the speed of light, making interstellar exploration a reality. During the 80s, however, they used their relatively advanced ships to sabotage or destroy other nations unmanned probes in order to keep their Martian base a secret, a fact that came out during the Soviet collapse. While the US was developing hyperspatial ships, the USSR had decided that having sorcerers open portals was dumb and so godddamn crazy, and started creating artificial portals. By the time the Soviet Union collapsed, they could visit Mars at will and had sent probes throughout the solar system.
In the early 90s, civilian ships began visiting other planets, which soon resulted in the establishment of colonies on the moon and on Mars, which are now home to a few million colonists apiece. There are other colonies further out in the solar system, but theyre only for research and mining--since memory records are available, very few people feel the need to visit Saturn to see it up close. (Alien life was discovered on Europa, but its huge, ancient, and doesnt want to talk to us, so Europa has been declared off-limits.)
The total population of space colonists is approaching 12 million. Opportunities to become a space colonist are competitive, as smaller countries piggyback on the space programs of larger ones, and citizens of poorer nations often use space colonization as a way to earn citizenship in the country sponsoring their expedition. Still, interstellar colonization is a new frontier for a very diverse spread of people who want to improve their lot in life, and part of a career path for those in particularly sought-after professions.
In the late 40s, the public first learned about the existence of alien civilizations that died out millions of years ago. That alone was enough to fuel a wave of UFO hysteria in the 50s and 60s, but in the 1980s people learned that their governments had been contacting and even signing treaties with alien species. Strangely enough, though, once the initial furor died down, nothing much about humanitys relationship with aliens has changed much since the 1980s. Once the public learned that most deep ones had no interest in contacting humanity, that they are mutated humans, and that they live a relatively primitive lifestyle, most no longer saw them as a threat. The mi-go are almost incomprehensibly alien, but the fact that they cant live on the Earths surface and are mostly just interested in trading us technology for minerals made them no more than a disturbing source of useful trade goods. Most of the alien species weve discovered since then have been either thoroughly alien and not interested in interacting with us, or long extinct. The general attitude of humanity toward most alien species is that were either already far superior or will catch up to and surpass them in no more than a few generations.
Life in 2030
Most people in the Eldritch Skies setting have never left Earth for more than a lunar vacation, but alien-derived technology has changed their lives. The most dramatic change is the existence of the psi-link, an electronic device which allows people to control machines or communicate with one another telepathically, and to telepathically share experiences or record them digitally. Psi-links arent ubiquitous--about 85% of people in developed countries have at least tried one, and a significant minority are personally against using them, but they constitute a technological revolution and are used from everything to psychic vacations to psychic conference calls and seminars.
Another big change is robotics. All kinds of versatile and affordable robots are now inexpensive enough that a good kitchen will cook your dinner and then clean itself while the rest of your household robots do the vacuuming and the laundry and wax your car. (Speaking of cars, they can drive themselves--in fact, autopilot is the law in most places, as it is for helicopters and planes.) Completely automated factories havent happened yet, but were getting there, and manufacturing jobs are disappearing even while manufacturing increases. The same thing has happened to many jobs in cleaning and food service--being served by a human waiter, having hired help, or owning handmade goods is more of a status symbol than ever. The economic effect creates more pressure for people to move offworld.
Now for the fun shit! Trade with the mi-go made biological augmentation possible. Diabetes and most forms of cancer have been cured, and permanent disabilities are far less common thanks to the ability to artificially grow limbs and organs. For people living in developed countries, the average lifespan is 125 and on the way up. About 12% of people have at least some kind of minor augmentation, like memory improvement or increased disease resistance--in some countries, theyre part of national healthcare due to the cost savings. Yes, there are augmentations that give you claws, let you climb walls like a spider-pig, or allow you to breathe underwater, but they have an awful reputation--the public considers them freakish and unnatural, theyre mostly illegal, and the media is filled with horror stories about people being killed or deformed by botched surgeries in shady clinics.
The most radical modifications are implants that give you inherent hyperspatial powers, like telekinesis. The only way to acquire them is illegal trade with the mi-go, so the only ones who have them are powerful criminals or the operatives of rogue states like North Korea. They have an unfortunate tendency to make you go incredibly, violently insane. OPS has done a few small studies to see if theres any way to make them safe, but the prognosis isnt good.
To be a psychic is a recognized and respected profession in 2030. Psychic powers have had some effect on social institutions, but were nowhere near The Demolished Man. Psychics require touch or eye contact to read minds, and psychic link devices only read passing thoughts, so theyre only somewhat more reliable than a polygraph. Psychics are most useful in counseling roles or as honest-brokers in business transactions.
Hyperspatial sorcery is a different matter altogether. The hyperspatial devices that see regular use (like electronic portals) are highly regulated, and the worlds governments are in agreement that they dont want a pocket edition of the Necronomicon hitting the newsstands. When governments locate skilled sorcerers, theyre generally given the choice of being recruited, being placed on a watchlist, or having their memories wiped. Working for an OPS program is pretty good pay, actually, and most people who become sorcerers are willing to be recruited. The public believes that most private sorcerers are fakes or criminals, and this isnt far off the mark--any big city has an occult underground that might be able to direct you to a real sorcerer. The services people want from sorcerers are generally the same things youd want from a hardened criminal--spying, commissioning a heist, escaping the authorities, protection, and even assassination.
The UN Security Council agreed that all negotiations with alien life must take place under the auspices of the UN. The OPS has the power to investigate any potential violations of the Dangerous Technologies Treaty, which covers not only hyperspatial technology, but any and all weapons of mass destruction. The UN has sharp limitations, but also unprecedented power to prevent people from slaughtering each other.
OPS mission statement is to protect humankind from alien threats, sorcery, and weapons of mass destruction, and to help humanity expand through the galaxy. Whats more controversial is the effort they expend to make sure some things remain a secret to the general public. They dont want people finding out about the existence of ghouls, Cthulhoids, or Great Old Ones, or for people to understand that hyperspatial sorcery doesnt necessarily require a well-equipped scientific laboratory. Their agents sometimes use, honest to God, a hypnoscope derived from Yithian technology thats kind of like the neuralyzer in Men in Black. More importantly, they disrupt and confuse interest in the real conspiracies by manipulating conspiracy theorists. They manipulate wild theories that the leaders of world governments are cultists, that the world is run by serpent people, and that Michael Jacksons death was a cover-up for his transformation into a Deep One.
Cthulhu Mythos 100%, Credibility Rating 0%, Head Butt 15%
The Way of the World
The major powers in 2030 are the US, the EU, and China, which are all powerful nations with a space program and a seat on the UN Security Council.
China : By 2020, decades of sustained economic growth put the Chinese standard of living on par with the US and EU. Chinas an economic powerhouse with a thriving space program, strict environmental regulations, and staunch support for OPS. However, their government is far more authoritarian than their peers, with most of the power invested in the Premier and the Communist Party. (I think this is pretty far-fetched, but someone who knows anything about Chinese politics can comment.) They also have a shit-ton of government surveillance, everywhere. An exception to this policy is their space colonies, wherein once taxes are paid and other minimum standards are met, the colonies are basically free to elect their own government and run things the way they want. Chinese colonies are a haven for dissidents, freethinkers, and neer-do-wells.
The EU : The most prosperous nation, albeit with an aging population and a lagging space program. The EU is a leader in human rights--like China, theyve embraced ubiquitous public surveillance, but these feeds are freely available to the public, and the surveillance laws apply strict standards to law enforcement. Speaking of their law enforcement, theyre very good at rooting out unauthorized sorcery and illegal corporate trade with aliens. The EU is apparently kind of boring, but OPS considers them the most secure world power.
The US : After the Great Revelation of many alien-related state secrets following the Soviet collapse, the US went through a long period of low public confidence. Although they shared in the global economic boom, the US didnt stay ahead of China and the EU. Since then, theyve become more isolationist while focusing more on their space program.
The US suffers from a strong streak of paranoid nationalism, and it hasnt implemented widespread surveillance to nearly the extent of the other superpowers. The country has far more than its fair share of anarchists, conspiracy theorists, and Ruby Ridge style lunatics--whats worse, some of these fringe groups have their own sorcerers trying to obtain alien weapons and technology. Most of their efforts play right into the hands of OPS agents, but some of them are successful--there have been two major domestic terrorist attacks using hyperspatial weapons to summon people-eating monsters. Other developed countries regard the US as a violent and backward nation considering its level of economic development.
OPS actually considers American radicals less dangerous than Russian organized crime--as always, the greatest threat to world peace posed by the US is through its large corporations, which often conduct espionage via sorcery and make illegal deals with the mi-go. Americans are very proud of their space program, and see the Chinese as a threat to American dominance--which doesnt actually exist, as the two powers are about on par with one another.
Other countries also exist and do things:
Africa : Although prosperity has finally come to many African nations (often thanks to Chinese investment), sub-Saharan Africa is still the poorest, least stable, and most violent part of the world. OPS suspects that some governments have made secret deals with the mi-go, but they cant prove anything yet, and the UNs only real response is to continue to send food and medicine.
South America : Brazil is the economic powerhouse, with a growing space program and many Brazilians involved in UN space initiatives. The only other notable hotspot is Peru, which is ravaged by war and hyperspatial weapons imported through Russian and North Korean arms dealers.
India : India continues to grow economically and has a small space program. Their biggest social problem is a sharp disparity between the middle class and the poor. This problem aggravates tensions with Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Japan : Japan has a lot of problems that hinder its competition with the greater powers, like having the oldest average population in the world and a rigid, isolationist political climate. Their economy hinges on the fact that theyre the world leader in robotics. Many young Japanese want to emigrate to one of the nations space colonies, but competition for entry is fierce.
The Middle East : Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran are the most influential nations. They increasingly rely on tourism and job outsourcing, since oil is not nearly so important to the world economy anymore. Hyperspatial weapon terrorism (can we get a word for this? Hyperterrorism? Xenoterrorism?) isnt much of a problem--illegal use of sorcery or alien tech is a capital crime in most of the Middle East. Iran remains strongly Islamist, and is the only country with an appreciable space program, on the verge of establishing its second colony.
Israel and Palestine : Israel is much safer now that nations like Iran cant afford to spend vast sums on their military. Israel has established one space colony, Emek Emet, where many young Israelis want to immigrate. The Palestinians now have a nominally independent homeland, but they remain impoverished. Israel is a fairly isolationist nation whose most significant ties are to the most isolationist superpower, the US, so they arent a big deal in international politics.
Russia : Its kinda fucked. Since the collapse of the USSR, Russia has lost smaller nations to the EU, is relatively poor, and its government cant keep organized crime under control. At the same time, Russian politicians cut deals with criminals to control dissidents and reformers. The gangs flout the government, the government tries to play the gangs against each other, and individual cities pay protection money to gangs to play them against the government and get away with not paying their taxes. Some of the remote industrial cities are practically independent city-states, and have to deal with roaming bandits. If you want to buy alien tech in a back alley or hire a sorcerer to do something really nasty, Russia is the place to go. The OPS conducts more missions in Russia than in China and the EU combined.
Now for the rogue nations!
Myanmar/Burma : This country became an object lesson in how bad the UN and the OPS can fuck you up if they obtain the proof they need to act. The OPS found evidence that the ruling generals were using hyperspatial weapons against rebel groups, just so they could take back control of the heroin business. Two dozen heavily armed OPS groups went in, neutralized the sorcerers, and used hyperspatial gates to abduct most of the generals and put them on trial. Then 50,000 troops went in, coopted half the army, and spent three years crushing the rest of the military junta. Five years later, the country held its first free elections, and is now much better off. The whole things a huge controversy--the mission was a huge success, but the UN being allowed to invade a nation, overthrow its government, and spend a few years establishing a new nation screams one-world-government black-helicopter bullshit to a whole lot of people.
North Korea : The Guiding Star of the 21st Century, Dear Leader, who is a perfect incarnation of the appearance that a leader should have, Glorious General who descended from Heaven, Bright Sun of Juche, General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, Chairman of the National Defence Commission of North Korea, and Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army Kim Jong Il is still the absolute ruler of North Korea. At 89 years old, its suspected that hes only kept alien by advanced and probably illegal alien-derived medicine. In North Korea, only the government is allowed to use psychic powers and technologies, and the OPS suspects theyre manufacturing nuclear, chemical, and hyperspatial weapons, but they cant prove anything--North Korea is apparently adept at using hyperspatial tech to cloak their nation from surveillance. Every OPS team thats tried to infiltrate North Korea has either failed outright or simply vanished.
Pakistan : Rule of the country is divided between a brutal military dictatorship and petty warlords who squabble over the uncontrolled rural regions. The warlords hate each other, but they hate the government more, and all of them hate India more than each other. Pakistan is the country to watch for exciting new developments in terrorism!
The Bad Guys
Im guessing that this game is, by default, about playing OPS agents, because were repeatedly told about the stuff that the OPS fights.
Aliens : The OPS maintains the treaties with the Deep Ones and Mi-Go, and investigate incursions by other aliens. They also prosecute any humans or aliens who violate the treaties. Occasionally, theyre called upon to fight particularly troublesome packs of ghouls. (We havent really been told what ghouls are and why theyre bad.) Ghouls dont want the general public to learn about them, so theyre tolerate the OPS killing ringleaders who get too big for their britches. The OPS is also sometimes called upon to use its advanced weaponry (and sometimes sorcery) to deal with particular alien problems like flying polyps escaping from their prisons or serpent men masquerading among humans. In space, theyre keeping an eye on the moonbeasts. (Yes, moonbeasts.)
Cults : In the past, many cults worshipped aliens, but thats kind of a defunct concept now that aliens are our trading partners. Most cults worship powerful hyperspatial entities. Some, like Cthulhu and other Great Old Ones, send dreams and visions to encourage human beings to worship them. Most people would just ignore these dreams, or maybe get a therapist or a Xanax subscription, but already unstable people can become fascinated by these dreams and just go further and further down the rabbit hole. Other people join cults for the same reasons people join them in the real world.
Dirty Deeds : Plenty of people interact with aliens without being cultists--they just want a ghoul to assassinate someone, or for a Deep One to sink a ship, or for the Mi-Go to sell them a Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator. The OPS always views these people as servants of the aliens, because thats what usually happens--the Deep Ones and ghouls may be on a level humans can understand, but more, well, alien aliens see humans as useful, nonsentient vermin.
Aliens dont want suitcases full of cash; they want their human minions to do things like steal ancient artifacts, perform rituals empowering the Great Old Ones, or becoming collaborators to help with more long-term plans. The worst dupes are the ones who get commissioned to fulfill such strange requests that they have to get a group of people together to enact them, so the alien has cabal at its disposal. Since exposure to hyperspatial beings drives humans insane, a human collaborator who starts out as a self-interested criminal may end up a devout cultists.
In any case, when humans collaborate with aliens, the OPS wants to identify and put a stop to both the humans and the aliens involved. Humans who havent already committed serious crimes are likely to have their memories erased and be cut loose, while serious offenders will probably be imprisoned or committed for a long time. Oddly enough, sometimes OPS personnel have to work with Mi-Go and Deep One agents who are also charged with enforcing the treaties.
What Cults Do : Familiar aliens usually want humans to do understandable things like retrieving artifacts, covering up their activities, or killing people who get in the way of their plans. Hyperspatial entities are a lot weirder and more dangerous. They may ask humans to do all kinds of things, including retrieving artifacts, causing mass death and destruction, or enacting bizarre rituals. Ultimately, though, these serve one of a few purposes: to let the entity feed off the power of the event, or to alter hyperspace in a way that favours the entity. The OPS regards most cultists as unsavory criminals or misguided idiots--most cultist activity results in no more than ordinary theft, property damage, and occasional murder, and most rituals are bungled or simply dont work. If they sense that a cult actually has competent sorcerers and is on the verge of getting away with something serious--like, say, nuclear terrorism to empower their master--they watch them very closely and prepare to act.
Space Rangin : Policing space for cultist activity is hard. Since a lot of colonies are far-flung and isolated, a cult can take root and subvert the entire population very quickly. This isnt really a danger in the large colonies, but if a small, remote colony comes into contact with an alien artifact, hyperspatial entity, or insane sorcerer, bang, youve got Children of the Corn in space.
Technically, all colonies are supposed to handle their own law enforcement, and frontier justice is a common problem. OPS agents visiting small, distant colonies often take it upon themselves to prevent gross injustice. They may not have any official power there, but only people who are hardened, desperate, or insane are willing to directly confront OPS agents. Besides investigation, though, a central tenet of the OPS mission statement is helping humankind expand throughout the galaxy, so many OPS personnel go on missions of exploration to discover new planets and life forms.
A Timeline of the Mythos Present
1928 : The US government raids Innsmouth, and imprisons about a quarter of the population in institutions to study their strange physiology.
1931 : The Miskatonic expedition to the Antarctic discovers the city of the Elder Ones.
mid-1930s : Reports of the Dyer expedition to the Antarctic are leaked.
1940s : Nazis use the Überverwüstung to kill hundreds of Allied troops. Fortunately, the weapons arent practical enough to be a major force in the war.
1947 : A mining transport ship, containing a single mi-go, crashes in Roswell, NM. The US government recovers the wreckage and the dead mi-go.
1949 : Deep Ones contact the UN Security Council, leading to a treaty the following year.
1950s : Alien-derived tech secretly results in advances in all kinds of material sciences. Transistors make the first psi-links possible.
1956 : The Security Council uncovers a Yithian spy, and makes contact with the Yithians.
1958 : A US expedition completes the first manned mission to Mars via hyperspace.
1959 : The third US Mars expedition is missing and presumed dead when they fail to return to Earth via hyperspatial gate. The US govt cancels future plans for space travel using gates.
1960 : The UN founds the Office of Paranormal Security.
1966 : US Astronauts complete the first public moon landing using a monatomic hydrogen rocket.
1967 : The existence of psychic powers is made public.
1969 : US and Soviet astronauts work together to rescue a failed US mission.
1970s : Oil shortages prompt the development of efficient solar cells and the first practical electric weapons.
1973 : The first permanent Lunar base is built near the Yithian ruins on the moon.
1980s : The first velocity multiplication drives are invented, along with artificial hibernation. Cheap solar cells are increasingly used to provide power.
1981 : Soviet cosmonauts visit Mars using an artificial gate.
1982 : US resumes its Mars space program using hyperspatial craft.
1984 : US collaborates with OPS to built a secret Martian base to study the ruins there.
1985 : First contact with the Europan aliens kills 5 of the 8-man mission team. Europa is declared off-limits for future exploration.
1986 : The USSR collapses.
1987 : The Great Revelation, in which information about psychic tech, alien contact, hyperspatial tech, and advanced space travel becomes public.
1990s : The psi-link is now used in research. Advanced genetics cure Innsmouth Syndrome and most other genetic conditions.
1994 : The Gilman-Hawking dragonfly drive allows humanity to explore the galaxy.
2000s : The psi-link becomes a consumer good. Mi-Go biotech allows for the first bio-augmentations and cures for diabetes and most cancers. Autopiloted cars become a reality. Nuclear fusion power is invented.
2002 : The first extrasolar colony is founded on Eridanos. The psi-link is introduced, revolutionizing electronics.
2010s : Flying cars become widely available. Human-created augmentations become available, widening the gap between rich and poor.
2012 : Moonbeasts attack a mining colony and kill or capture all inhabitants.
2015 : Moonbeasts attack the Eden colony, but are repelled.
2017 : The OPS discovers the Thurian colony of Galatea.
2020s : Hyperspatial augmentations are introduced to humanity, but only seen in select government agents and notorious criminals. The first affordable general-purpose 3D printers become available, so people can now create many consumer goods at home.
2021 : The UN declares war on the moonbeasts. Since moonbeast attacks are sporadic and we havent located any of their colonies, the declaration is symbolic.
2028 : Brazilian explorers discover the planet Prodigio, inhabited by aliens who seem to be about to transcend their physical forms.
Next time, on Eldritch Skies : Chapter 2, character creation.
Civilians & OperativesOriginal SA post
Chapter 2: Civilians and Operatives
The character creation chapter also opens with a few paragraphs of fiction, about a woman named Isabella. She always loved swimming, surfed without a wetsuit, and as a adult, felt the sea calling to her. It’s not until she’s pregnant with her first child that she discovers she’s a hybrid Deep One, and while it’s too late for genetic therapy to prevent her transformation without wrecking her psychologically, she has choices to make for her child. It’s a surprisingly good insight into the setting for just a few paragraphs, because there doesn’t seem to be any judgment or shock on the part of the doctor--just the difficult prospect of finding out she’s inhuman and has to decide what choice to make for her child.
The opening section is called “Creating Heroes” and reminds us that yes, characters are heroic, campaigns are called “series” and gameplay is meant to be “cinematic.” It gives some good advice that can be summed up as “The Director and the players should discuss what kind of game it’s going to be and what characters are appropriate.” It refers you to Chapter 7 for advice on designing a
We aren’t told how the Unisystem works yet, but this chapter more-or-less explains that you’re rolling Attribute+Skill, you want both to be high, and what levels are considered “poor,” “talented,” “professionally skilled,” etc. This is what a character creation chapter has to do in order to not piss me off.
If you’ve ever played any Unisystem game, you know that the Director has three options for starting power level, which are basically “Heroes, Experienced Heroes, or Normals.” Angel has Champions, Veterans, and Investigators, Army of Darkness has Heroes, Experienced Heroes, and Primitive Screwheads, and so on. The options here are Operatives, Veterans, and Civilians.
I won’t bore you with the point breakdowns, but Eldritch Skies PCs are formidable, as befits characters in a pulpy movie or TV show. Even a “Civilian” has enough points to buy the Special Forces Quality or be a polymath genius, and Operative characters can be both of those things or put super-powers on top of it. Veterans aren’t just heroes but hero sandwiches; it’s like playing an action movie hero or a video game protagonist several sequels in, when they’ve become multiple flavours of badass. I wouldn’t want to run a Veteran campaign, at least not for players new to the setting.
Like I said, Unisystem is an Attribute+Skill+die roll setup. The attributes are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Perception, and Willpower.
The attributes don’t make complete sense to me. First, I think there’s a good argument for combining Strength and Constitution into a Body attribute. Strength, I believe, only gets used for hand-to-hand damage, Life Points, and athletic activities that rely primarily on power, like swimming and climbing. Only the most detailed systems really try to model how important overall body strength is to doing all kinds of Hero Stuff effectively without getting injured, fucking up, or collapsing from exhaustion. Aside from that, I have only one complaint--the Attributes correspond roughly to D&D’s ability scores, but we aren’t told in character creation which Attribute is important to social skills.
The Attributes are self-explanatory, but there are also derived attributes. Life Points are hit points, and when you reach 0 you’re mortally wounded--you get Strength+Constitution, times four, plus 10. Speed measures movement, and they actually bother calculating how many kph you can run, before telling you that you can run (Dex+Con) yard per second and (Dex+Con)*5 yards per turn. Yawn.
An Attribute at 1 is poor, while 2 is average--most people will have most of their attributes at 2 with the occasional 1 or 3. Level 3 is above average, 4 is “a near genius” or a “top amateur athlete,” and 5 is the domain of prodigies and Olympic athletes. Level 6 is the “true human limit,” with only a handful among billions. It says people with “freakish” attributes can achieve level 7, but I don’t know if that means supernatural characters or super-rare talents like Einstein and people who set longstanding Olympic records.
He’s not human, I tell you!
Qualities and Drawbacks
Qualities are an odd mix that will be nonetheless familiar to anyone who’s played another Unisystem game, or anything from the new World of Darkness--they encompass social advantages, special training or abilities that don’t quite fall under any skill, career “packages” that gives you boosts to attributes and skills, and supernatural abilities of all kinds. Drawbacks are weaknesses that give you extra points. Let’s go over the fun ones.
Addiction (1-5): A variable Drawback with options ranging from smoker to caffeine freak to alcoholic to heroin addict. This one actually gets a full page with a chart and discussion of impairment, potential consequences, and the process of breaking addiction. The mild stuff is only worth 1 point, and rightly so; there’s really nothing to worry about at all unless you get stranded someplace where you can’t get your fix. (See “The Beast of the Breakroom,” by Clark Ashton Smith.)
Amnesia (2): It can’t be a “cinematic” game without this old chestnut. You’ve lost part of your memory for any of a number of reasons, and while it doesn’t affect any die rolls, the Director can impose new Qualities and Drawbacks if you start to recover your memories. Expect all your players to take this Drawback; it’s basically 2 free points with the potential for exciting mystery prizes if the Director’s feeling generous.
Clown (1): You can’t help but making jokes, even when it’s inappropriate. There’s nothing about a Willpower roll to resist or anything. A free point to the player who was going to do this anyway!
Covetous (1-3): Covetousness comes in four varieties; greed (money), lechery (sex), ambition (power) and the awkwardly-named conspicuousness (fame). Mild covetousness is another 1-point, free-for-pretending-to-roleplay Drawback that means you spend a lot of time trying to get what you want, while more severe Covetousness requires Willpower rolls to avoid stupid risks or even naked betrayal to get what they want. Consider this if your Series calls for a corporate executive or a serial rapist.
Emotional Problems (1-2): This is mostly more free points for roleplaying. Who knew that becoming a badass secret agent could be compensation for depression, anxiety, or a fear of commitment? (Seriously.)
Humorless : See “Clown.” The opposite of that, except the part about getting a free point.
Mental Problems (1-3): Unlike the Emotional Problems, these mostly represent personality disorders and psychosis and have concrete mechanical penalties associated with them. Antisocial cruelty, delusions, obsessions, phobias, and paranoia for all your shell-shocked veteran needs.
Minority (1): I mention this because it doesn’t say what’s considered a minority in 2030. There’s clearly still prejudice, but it seems like that would depend on where you are. It’s automatically part of the package for Deep One hybrids.
Obligation (1-3): I only bother mentioning this one because it’s part of a lot of “package” Qualities. An Obligation to follow an organization’s rules isn’t worth anything by itself. People like cops and OPS agents who have to obey rules in risky jobs have 1-point Obligations; the 2 and 3-point versions are reserved for people like spies, cultists, and high-level operatives and soldiers.
Astronaut (4): You’re an experienced spaceperson. You automatically have Space Training (which removes penalties for zero-G action), +1 Constitution, +1 to a Mental Attribute, and +1 to Acrobatics, Engineering, and Pilot. The only downside is an automatic 1-point Obsession with double-checking everything to make sure it’s safe. A Good Quality.
Athlete (3): This doesn’t require you to be a pro athlete. You get +1 to each Physical Attribute, +1 to Acrobatics and Sports, the downsides being a 2-point Obsession with training and fitness and needing to purchase at least another level of Acrobatics and Sports.
Attractiveness : This can be a Quality or a Drawback ranging from +5 to -5, and the effects are dramatic--a bonus or penalty to all your attempts to persuade someone (usually with the Influence skill). Ugliness can even induce fear checks.
Contacts : Rated from 1 to 5, the suggested categories are criminal, governmental, supernatural, and professional. A contact who only feeds you rumours and gossip is worth 1 point, minor favours (like a night of shelter or running a background check) are worth 2, and allies who will really step in and assist you cost more.
Criminal/Insider (2-3): A versatile package deal, Criminals get +1 to any Attribute, +1 Crime, and +1 to a skill related to their field. On the other hand, they have a unique weakness that requires a Willpower roll to avoid a chance at a quick buck. Insiders are organized criminals, with 2 free points of criminal Contacts but a 1-point Obligation to their syndicate.
Danger Sense (1): You get a free Perception+Notice test to be aware if a situation is dangerous if you didn’t already know that.
Eidetic Memory (1-2): The 1-point version gives you a photographic memory. The 2-pointer gives you a +1 bonus to any skill roll where memorizing facts is useful, or a +1 to +3 bonus to any rolls specifically about memory. This is a really cheap deal on a bonus that can apply to a lot of rolls. There’s something about maybe not being able to forget things you’d like to (like seeing monsters) but, of course, no rules for it.
Fast Reaction Time (2): Finally, another one for the gunbunnies! +1 Initiative and +1 on fear tests. Why cower in a corner when you can shoot the Lovecraft mythos in the face?
Genius (5): Another fat package deal that’s totally worth it. +2 Intelligence, +1 to Perception or Willpower, 4 points in academic skills, and a 2-point Obsession with “your latest project.”
Hard to Kill (1-5): +3 Life Points and +1 to Survival Tests per level. You’re flat-out told to put any leftover points into this Quality.
God damn it, this installment is already late and now I have to finish typing it with two fingers taped together? Fuck me for missing that tackle.
Iron Mind (3): You’re flat-out immune to psychic powers and mind-affecting sorcery. On the downside, you can never be psychic or benefit from helpful telepathy.
Law Enforcement (5/8): Another good package. All cops get +1 to a physical Attribute and +1 to Crime, Driving, and Guns, and are assumed to be active-duty with legal authority and a 1-point Obligation to the force. The 8-point version makes you a federal or international agent, with 2 points of Gov’t Contacts, 2 points of Rank, free Espionage Training, and a stricter Obligation. You can be a former cop for fewer points, but just getting the stat package is boring, no?
Occult Investigator (4): +1 to two mental Attributes, +2 Occultism, and +1 to Fear Tests. The only catch is having to make a Willpower roll to resist opportunities to learn about the supernatural. Who can resist a sneak peek behind the mask of Nyarlathotep?
Resources (-5 to +5): The writers wisely give summaries of various income levels in 2011 dollars and trust the Director to make decisions about the inflation of the NeoEurocredit or whatever. PCs who don’t take any level of this are presumed to have a gross income of $30k, and the Quality ranges from -5 (the clothes on you back and a stolen shopping cart) to +5 ($5 million in assets and making $2.5 million a year). You can actually spend even more points, getting another $5 million per point, but you’re flat-out told that no one gets to play a billionaire in Eldritch Skies. Job creators aren’t welcome in Obamathotep’s America.
Special Forces/Soldier (3/9): Soldiers get +1 to any Attribute, +1 Guns, Military Training, and 2 points of skills related to their specialty, along with 2 points of Gov’t Contacts and a 2-point Obligation. Special Forces get +1 to 3 Attributes, +2 Guns, +1 Brawling and Archaic Combat, 2 points of specialty Skills, 3 points of Gov’t Contacts and a 3-point Obligation, since the military runs their life and sends them to die trying to give Shub-Niggurath a pregnancy test.
Special Training (1): These are a little odd; they mean that you don’t take penalties for certain highly specialized stuff that’s out of the purview of normal skills. Espionage Training lets you use surveillance equipment, Military Training is for military vehicles and heavy weaponry, and Space Training eliminates the penalty for zero-G movement.
Spy (5): +1 Willpower, +1 to another Attribute, +1 Guns and Crime, +1 to 2 specialty skills, 3 points of Gov’t Contacts and Espionage Training. You’re also stuck with a 3-point Obligation and mild Paranoia.
Deep One Hybrid (6): You’re part Deep One, but not enough to ever “take to the water,” in Lovecraft’s words. Maybe you got genetic therapy, or maybe your ancestry isn’t strong enough--or maybe you will transform, just not for several decades. You might have fine, skin-coloured scales, or the “Innsmouth Look” with bulgy eyes and-
His age was perhaps thirty-five, but the odd, deep creases in the sides of his neck made him seem older when one did not study his dull, expressionless face. He had a narrow head, bulging, watery-blue eyes that seemed never to wink, a flat nose, a receding forehead and chin, and singularly undeveloped ears. His long thick lip and coarse-pored, greyish cheeks seemed almost beardless except for some sparse yellow hairs that straggled and curled in irregular patches; and in places the surface seemed queerly irregular, as if peeling from some cutaneous disease.
--yeah, I’d take the scales. Either way, you get +1 Strength and Constitution (which can go up to 7), Low-light Vision, Amphibiousness, a point of Natural Armor, and you’re comfortable in temperatures down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. On the downside, your minimum Hyperspatial Exposure is 1, and you have the Minority Drawback.
Half-breed Ghoul (6): You have a ghoul parent, or some ghoul ancestry which mysteriously expressed itself. You look totally human, except for slightly sharper teeth and eyes that range from yellow to orange. Ghouls live somewhat longer than humans, and half-breeds have a cast-iron stomach and a taste for “well-aged meat.” You get +2 Strength, +1 Constitution, Low-Light Vision, Acute Senses (Smell) 1, Resistance (Poison/Disease) 1, and your Strength and Constitution can go up to 7. The negatives aren’t so bad: Minimum Hyperspatial Exposure is 1, and you have to take a 1-point Mental problem of Cruelty or Violent tendencies.
Next time, on Eldritch Skies : Character creation, part 2. Psychic powers, magic spells, Augmentations, skills, and the writers actually spend some money on artwork!
Psychics, Sorcerers, Augmentations, & SkillsOriginal SA post
Character creation, Part 2: Psychics, Sorcerers, Augmentations, and Skills
Eldritch Skies makes the smart move by making special powers and cybernetics Qualities that you purchase with your starting points--you can’t spend a few points on wealth and buy a bunch of cyberware with money, and you don’t get a pool of “spell points” or suchlike that effectively gives you an arsenal of powers for the cost of one or two.
Psychic Sensitivity (3): You have to buy this in order to be psychic. It comes with two automatic abilities: you can roll Perception + Psychic Art to sense someone’s true emotions, and you can telepathically talk to other psychics within 100 meters. It requires no roll (you’re just talking), but if you don’t share a common language, communication is in images and impressions, and no good for discussing complex and abstract topics. You can also make a Willpower + Psychic Art roll to communicate simple concepts (like “Run!” or “Help!”) to non-psychics. Pretty much all aliens are at least a little psychic, but there are rolls and stiffed penalties involved in attempting to communicate usefully with them. All psychics have minimum Hyperspatial Exposure of 1.
Clairvoyance (4): You see visions of other people and places, and sometimes possible futures. You can try to have a vision deliberately by making a roll and touching a person or object related to what you’re investigating, but many are unintentional result of intense emotional events--clairvoyants regularly have visions of crimes and disturbing incidents. You roll to determine the clarity of the vision, but most are short flashes of insight, and it comes with a built-in Spidey Sense to protect you from imminent danger. You can see this as a Danger Sense that comes with a very useful investigation power, or an expensive Danger Sense with an invitation for the Director to use you as a plot device and fuck you over; your call.
Emotional Influence (4): With touch or eye contact, you can provoke any kind of emotion in your target. It’s not mind control; they react as they normally would. It normally works for 15 minutes, but if the emotion is out of place (I’m so mad about these cupcakes) it fades quickly.
Insight (4): With a Perception+Psychic Art roll, you can learn intimate truths about a person--not thoughts or memories, but things like psychological Qualities and Drawbacks, desires, hopes and fears, and if they’re insane, possessed, or secretly an alien.
Mind Probe (4): This is the one that actually allows you to read thoughts--depending on how well you roll, you can read surface thoughts, extract information, analyze personality, or read memories. You need touch or close eye contact, however, so it’s not like you can just casually foil the Director’s plots by reading everyone you meet.
Psychic Link (1): You have a psychic bond with another character. You can roll to communicate with them telepathically from any distance. Non-psychics can have this power with a psychic partner.
Psychic Visions (1): You have dreams and visions of the future, which are ambiguous and reflect your current concerns. (Wait, is this actually a psychic power?) This is explicitly an invitation for the Director to drop hints and clues, and you don’t need to be psychic to buy this power.
Psychometry (4): You can get information about places and objects by touching them. Ultimately it’s up to the Director, but you make a Perception+Psychic Art roll and there’s a chart of suggestions as to what you learn, ranging from strong emotions associated with the target recently to elaborate visions of events that happened up to ten thousand years ago.
Undetectability (4): You can cloud men’s minds like the Shadow, and add your Willpower to Acrobatics or Crime rolls to be stealthy. It’s not flat-out invisibility--it doesn’t work on cameras or recording devices, and you can’t running around naked and screaming and wearing a duck on your head and still remain hidden.
That’s it for psychic powers. I kinda wanted more.
Sorcery (4-20): You’re an initiate in the principles of hyperspatial sorcery. Unlike Psychic Sensitivity, this doesn’t give you any automatic benefits, and Sorcery really doesn’t do anything by itself. Sorcery costs 4 points per level because to use it you need spells, which are rated 1-5 and require a corresponding Sorcery level.
Spells (1-3): See above. Spells of level 1-2 cost 1 point, levels 3-4 cost 2 points, and level 5 spells cost 3 points.
Hyperspatial Device (1-8): You have a device that mimics the effects of a spell, up to a level 4 spell. The device has a minimum size and weight, to, from something like a bracelet or pen for a level 1 spell to a heavy briefcase for a level 4 spell.
All the spells are detailed in Chapter 4, so it looks like I’m letting that alone for now. Considering the point cost, I presume “reality-warping magic” is a much more versatile portfolio than psychic powers.
Augmentations are, setting wise, the least important development of alien technology--curing diabetes and cancer is a lot more useful than some weird implanted organ that gives you an adrenaline rush. There are legal, illegal, and don’t-even-think-about-it enhancements. For starters, you can purchase the Fast Reaction Time, Hard to Kill, Natural Toughness, Resistance, or Eidetic Memory Qualities as augmentations.
Biofilter (2): You’re automatically immune to airborne toxins and pathogens, and you get a +2 to resist ones that are injected, ingested, or absorbed through the skin.
Enhanced Time Sense (2): You need Perception 5 and Fast Reaction Time to even purchase this, but it doubles the benefits of the latter Quality. It also lets you roll to perceive things that normally move too fast to detect, like speeding bullets, individual frames or film, or high-frequency noise.
Improved Senses (1-6): There are a lot of interesting options here, ranging up from the cheap and simple low-light vision (1). Infrared (2) effectively lets you see in complete darkness. Sonar gives you a “perfect picture of [your] immediate environment” at 3 points, but there’s no rules for what that means--the 6-point version gives you 360-degree vision. Electrical sense (3) is awesome because it gives a +3 to Science, Engineering, or Crime rolls dealing with electronics. Especially worth mention is Enhanced Sense--it costs 3 points on its own, and requires you to already have Perception 5 and Acute Senses for the same sense, and doubles the benefits of Acute Senses. Let’s see, you can spend 4-5 points on being an Astronaut, a Genius, or an Occult Investigator, or you can be really good at smelling things.
Oxygen Reserve (1): Hold your breath for 30 minutes. David Blaine joke.
Pressure Tolerance (2): +1 Constitution, and you can comfortably move between the equivalent of 9.5km high or 40m underwater without getting sick.
Rapid Healing (1): You heal 3 times as quickly as normal.
Temperature Tolerance (1): You can tolerate anywhere from 0 to 140 degrees without giving a fuck.
Restricted enhancements are illegal to provide, but not illegal to possess--although you can face discrimination or stiff penalties for using them in the commission of a crime. Having one requires you to take a 1-point Obligation (to whatever organization provided it) or a 1-point Dark Secret.
Amphibious (2): You can breathe water, survive at any depth with no problems, and swim as fast as you can run. (Why is this illegal?)
Boost Gland (3): Now we’re talking. You have a gland which can give you a temporary (10 round) boost of +2 to Strength and Dexterity. You can only use it every 2 hours.
Commando Upgrade (6): This has nothing to do with underwear. You get +1 to all your Physical Attributes, a level of Hard to Kill, and Regeneration.
Electrical Attack : You have electric eel-like tissue in your arms and legs, and by touching someone you can deliver bashing damage or the same stunning effect as a taser. Normal armor doesn’t protect against it.
Enhanced Attributes (1-3): You can raise any Attribute by +1. It costs more if this increases it above 6.
Natural Armor (1-3): Comes in two types, visible and invisible. Invisible isn’t noticeable, and provides 1 point of armor per level. Visible armor gives 2 points of armor per level, but also 1 level of negative Attractiveness as you have leathery skin, scales, or some kind of carapace.
Natural Weaponry (1-3): 1 point gets you sharp teeth and catlike claws; 2 points gets you big-ass fangs and long claws. Another point makes the claws retractable, but there’s no hiding huge tiger teeth.
Regeneration (2): You heal 12 times faster than normal, getting back your Con in Life Points every 2 hours.
Wall Walking (3): You can climb anything that can support your weight automatically, and move at the pace of a quick walk. As a side-effect, badly-dressed Europeans with cybernetic limbs may shake their fists at you.
Hyperspatial augmentations are seriously bad news. The mi-go themselves don’t understand all the side-effects that implants which manipulate hyperspatial energy can have on human bodies. The only people who have these augmentations are a very, very select few among OPS agents, intelligence agents, US or China special forces, and the most serious criminals in the most serious shit.
Attack Field (8 or 12): You have a force field which extends to a maximum of 60 cm from your body, with three settings: “Destroy living tissue,” “wreck electronics,” or “destroy all matter.” The cost determines whether it does 20 or 30 points of Bashing damage.
Defense Field (12): You can create a solid force field--either a wall, up to 10 meters away and up to 4 meters on a side, or a dome centered on yourself, with up to a 3-meter radius. It has 10 points of armor and can take 50 points of damage before it collapses. If it collapses, it only needs 1 minute to regenerate.
Hyperspatial Flight (8): You can fly at 5 times your running speed. The organ produces a glowing shimmer that looks like a four-meter wingspan--stuff passing through it doesn’t matter most of the time, but you can’t fly in tight spaces. Despite the “wings” the implant allows you to hover, move in all directions; etc. as if by telekinesis.
Hyperspatial Manipulators (3-15): You can make one or two “bubbles” of hyperspatial energy to manipulate objects telekinetically. Each level costs 3 points and provides 1 point of effective Strength. And yes, you can punch people in the face with your mind.
Being a cinematic game, Eldritch Skies has very broad, versatile skills--not so much as, say, Savage Worlds, but pretty close, and I like it a lot. If you want to play an espionage agent, you don’t need to buy Stealth, Security, and Streetwise skills, you just need points in Crime.
Unlike Attributes, Skills don’t have a limit, but they do provide vague guidelines. Level 2-3 represents general competency, while 4-5 is “extreme competence.” Anything above that is “true mastery,” for example, a master martial artist would have a Brawling skill of 7-10. Consider how many martial arts “masters” don’t ever actually fight, that’s the worst possible example. It would be more useful to know what skill level you need to be considered, say, a published professor, a pro athlete, or a military pilot.
Acrobatics : This is the all-purpose Athletics skill, and you use it with Dexterity or with Strength at the Director’s discretion on the kind of task. It can also be used for stealthy movement, dodging attacks, and low-gravity movement.
Archaic Weapons : Kind of a silly name, but it does cover all low-tech weapons from knives, swords, and spears to crossbows, throwing knives, atlatls and hungamungas. Mainly uses Dexterity, and it can be also be used to dodge attacks.
Art : You’re instructed to decide which arts your character is good at, and that you should buy extra skills if you want to be a singing, dancing, painting, sculpting puppeteer, but there’s no set limit. Use Intelligence for creating art, Willpower for performance, Constitution for Singing, and Perception for critique. Receiving dreams from Cthulhu is not mentioned.
Brawling : Beating people to death with your bare hands. Like Archaic Weapons, you can use it as a dodge skill. It uses Dexterity, but you can use Intelligence for feints or Perception to analyze someone’s fighting style.
Computers : They make it easy for you: if it’s software, use Computers, if hardware, use Engineering. This covers all common electronics from mobiles to complex sensors. It does cover hardware insofar as knowing what you need to use a device and troubleshooting, but not electronics repair or, say, defusing a bomb. You use Intelligence for programming, finding information, and hacking, and Perception to diagnose problems.
Crime : This really is a very versatile “rogue” skill; it covers everything from picking pockets and locks to cracking safes, disarming security systems, and knowing the criminal underworld. The only exceptions are computer hacking (computers) and conning people (Influence). You use Dexterity for the physical stuff, and Intelligence for identifying criminals and suchlike.
Doctor : Healing injuries and diseases, and installing augmentations. A MD will have a skill of 4 or higher; a surgeon who can do top-shelf augmentations would be 6 or higher. Intelligence is used for treating injuries; Perception is for diagnosis.
Driving : Covers all ground vehicles. Dexterity is used for driving maneuvers. Intelligence+Driving handles general maintenance, but for actual repair you need Engineering.
Engineering : You can build, modify, and repair pretty much anything with this skill; it covers not only mechanics and electronics, but all trade skills, like plumbing and woodworking. You’re told specifically that you can use it to make traps. Perception is for noticing problems, Intelligence for doing repairs or construction, and Dexterity for the really, well, dexterity-intensive stuff.
Guns : Guns, guns, guns, all kinds of firearms and high-tech range weapons. Uses Dexterity.
Influence : The social skill. Intelligence for deception, and Willpower for intimidation. Strangely, good-faith negotiation isn’t thought about.
Knowledge : It encompasses all social sciences and humanities that aren’t art or hard science. You can also use it for local or regional knowledge and lore that wouldn’t be covered by another skill. It’s used with Intelligence with almost everything.
Languages : This is a little different, in that each point represents fluency in 1 language. You roll it with Intelligence for linguistics and deciphering languages.
Notice : It does what it says, and covers not only stuff like “someone is following me” but also things like spotting an obscure reference in a text. Of course it’s almost always used with Perception, but Intelligence is used to remember information that wasn’t important until now.
Occultism : Everything you ever didn’t want to know about aliens, hyperspace, hyperspatial entities, and sorcery, whether it was written by a college professor last month or a raving lunatic last millennium. You need this to cast spells. Intelligence is used to research or recognize an entity; Perception is for identifying creatures on the spur of the moment.
Piloting : Covers anything that sails or flies (including spacecraft). Dexterity for maneuvers, Intelligence for using sensors.
Psychic Art : This is used for psychic powers, but it doesn’t include an academic knowledge component like Occultism. Perception is used to scan emotions, and Willpower to manipulate them.
Science : All of the hard sciences--physics, biology, chemistry, and their branches. I’m fucking tired of saying you use Intelligence to invent or analyze shit and Perception to recognize shit, so no more of that shit.
Sports : Covers all sports that don’t properly use another skill (like Acrobatics for gymnastics and Brawling for martial arts). You can use Sports in combat to do very specific things like using a bat as a weapon or tackling an enemy.
Wilderness : This is the survival skill, and also covers dealing with animals.
Wild Card : This your invitation to invent a skill for anything you don’t believe is properly covered by the preceding.
Drama Points represent being able to beat the odds through extraordinary effort, luck, or fate when the chips are down. When you use one, you get a huge bonus to your roll. That’s all we’re told in this chapter, but it’s important because the only edge Civilians have over other character types is getting 20 Drama Points instead of 10.
Do these really need to be covered? Only insofar as they illustrate the setting, and because the designers actually got some art for this stuff. It’s not great, but it’s something.
Independent Sorcerer : A genius-level intellect who got into occult lore, and spent her college years learning the advanced mathematics and computer skills (that’s right) to become an actual sorcerer. She’s investigated cults, and one such incident led to her current phobia. Eventually she got the attention of OPS and became a consultant for their difficult cases.
This character is a Genius with a high level of Sorcery and few spells, but has 9 points of Drawbacks, mainly psychological--she’s obsessive, a pathologically deep sleeper, has a severe phobia of large bodies of water, and has a couple other mild psychological problems. Curiously, she has the Minority (lesbian) flaw, which I didn’t think would be A Thing in a setting where doctors have to tell strict fundamentalists that their great-grandpa fucked a frog-mutant.
OPS Strike Team Commando : This guy went through ROTC and did his tour of duty before he had to get genetic therapy to prevent eventual transformation into a Deep One. Since prejudice limited his advancement in the Air Force, he joined OPS, who trained him for space duty, including advanced combat operations and disaster relief.
So this guy is a badass. Deep One Hybrid, Commando Upgrade augmentation, Astronaut training, Soldier, and high combat skills coupled with very high physical Attributes--and to get all this, he doesn’t need any more Drawbacks than come with his Qualities.
OPS Psychic Spy : A psychic with good people skills and a knack for languages, the spy was recruited by OPS at a young age. She believes in the importance of her work--stopping trafficking in illegal alien technology and weapons of mass destruction.
The psychic has the Emotional Influence, Insight, and Undetectability powers, as well as the Spy Quality and a couple of minor augmentations. Besides her psychic powers, her strengths are in her mundane skills.
Half-Breed Ghoul Cop : This guy isn’t a fancy OPS agent, and he either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about his ghoul heritage, he’s just a hardworking cop protecting the people on his beat. He’s started noticing strange people on the street, and strange creatures underneath it, and the reading he’s started doing on occult lore disturbs him.
The cop is a Civilian, and thus not on the level of the Commando, but he’s a pretty well rounded character with decent combat skills as well as a smattering of medical and technical skills.
Civilian Psychic : This character is a good picture of how psychic awakening goes for most people in the setting: She took a test, discovered her talent, and it led to a stable career--in her case, as an art historian who could use her Psychometric powers to authenticate works. Most notably, she has a three-month span of time she doesn’t remember, from when she was authenticating texts for a wealthy collector.
This character is an Occult Investigator, and indeed is more about more-or-less haplessly investigating strange goings-on (and her own past) than using their psychic powers as methodically as the psychic spy. I could easily see this character paired with the ghoul cop in a campaign that’s action-packed but not necessarily action-movie level.
Astronaut : A straightforward character in terms of background: Wanted to be an astronaut when she grew up; did it. She has several minor augmentations for space operations, but most importantly, this is a techie character, with Engineering, Science, and Pilot at the forefront.
Next time, on Eldritch Skies : Chapter 3, Rules and Equipment.