Brave New World: Bargainers by Hostile V
THE HISTORY OF THE BARGAINERSOriginal SA post
BRAVE NEW WORLD: BARGAINERS
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step right up and see the sights beyond the mortal realm! The first half of this book is all about the secret shadow world of the Bargainers. The second half is all about executing your deals with the damned, new powers and spells and setting secrets! And it doesn’t get any better, folks!
The crux of this book is that it’s a website for Bargainers with an introduction by the Bargainer called Mr. Twist and his demonic ally named…
Yeah alright whatever let’s get this show on the road.
THE HISTORY OF THE BARGAINERS
The Bargainers are an organized union of people who are trying to save the world from Biblical Armageddon by cutting deals with demons to get superpowers.
Okay let’s back the fuck up.
And then Mr. Twist died on impact.
Once upon a time the Brave New World universe was smack-dab between a shitload of other dimensional realms. All of those realms were doing their own thing, basically acting in a feudal society as they eyed the other dimensional realms suspiciously. This lasts up until a devil by the name of Lucifer Morningstar said “hey, power is awesome, but you know what’s better? Uniting our realms under the same name”. Every other realm of darkness said “hey, that’s a great idea! I should be the leader!” When the wars stopped, Lucifer Morningstar was the sole ruler of the united realms of dark forces which he decided to call Hell. Because suddenly all of the dimensions of dark forces have their shit together, the dimensions of light forces band together under the leadership of a dude called God and that becomes Heaven. It’s totally unknown what created all of these realms to begin with.
Meanwhile, Universe BNW is just doing its own thing.
So Hell is a united collection of all sorts of creatures of darkness. It's not like all of the dimensions got mashed together; they're still separate but they're a union. Tentacular gribblies? Black goats who scream in the tongues of men? Things that look like Japanese oni? They’re all counted as Demons under the banner of Hell the same way one would say “Africa” but there’s smaller countries. Hell sucks. Lucifer rules everything and lets people fight amongst themselves even though pretty much all of Hell is wildly powerful. So Demons like to do two things rather than just war amongst themselves: fuck with Heaven (by amassing a formal army and trying to invade it) and fuck with Earth (by feeding off of our acts of evil).
Fucking with Heaven doesn’t go so well. The war results in most of the forces of both sides being killed and Lucifer cease-fires with God. Heaven and Hell are now in a Cold War of their own creation: angels and demons do not fight each other under threat of 100 years of banishment, do not cross borders into Heaven or Hell and most importantly, the neutral realms (like the BNW universe) are off-limits. Neither side can just invade and claim it under their banner. But you can enter the realm if a native invites you.
So, in a nutshell, Heaven and Hell are the US and the USSR (whichever is which) and the Brave New World realm is, say, a South American country. And the dictator that signs away the mineral rights in exchange for guns to kill their enemies is a person who can invite a Demon or Angel in. Ostensibly, the Bargainers should be on the side of Hell. In actuality, they claim to be dealing with Hell for power to secure a free and independent dimension by not making any major promises.
The first Delta is actually Harry Houdini. Fuck the Silver Ghost, it’s Houdini. Houdini actually got his awakening when he performed his famous Milk Can Escape with beer instead of milk and the difference of liquids nearly got him killed. So he could hear voices in 1915 but he was the first to summon them and cut a deal with them. Because he was a bull-headed, research-minded guy he managed to figure out how to summon them and how to deal with them. With the first totem and the first powers gained, Houdini goes around and collects mediums and other people he suspect can hear the voices and he starts the Bargainers using his rules of summoning and deals.
So say Becky Average gains her Delta Powers and it turns out she’s a Bargainer. She’s got another choice to make besides registering or staying hidden: joining the Bargainers for training and understanding of her powers or going solo and probably falling prey to madness. People generally find out about the Bargainers by researching what they’re going through. You can still join Delta Prime or Defiance and be a Bargainer. It’s just that the Primers are portrayed as being paranoid about things beyond the scope of their job and Defiance doesn’t really ask questions.
Joining the Bargainers gets you access to a mentor who will teach you the craft of stage magic and of how to tap into your power. The main reason that Bargainers are stage magicians is multifaceted. First, honor Houdini (who is dead). Second, to learn confidence and how to carry yourself and speak. Third, to understand to not trust your senses and see past what a demon might use against you. Fourth, to learn about misdirection and how to con or finagle with people. Finally, because your powers can be used to give you a job as an entertainer. When this is all done, you learn about how to cut a deal and get your first chance.
"Look for the updog spell, sir." "What's-oh fuck you."
HOUDINI’S SIX RULES
First: get the deal in writing so the demon can’t weasel or renege. The other side of a paper deal is that it gets both parties in the same rules with the purpose of hashing this thing out. You should also have a witness.
Second: stick to the letter of the contract. The demon will play by the rules because a demon who rules-lawyers or is a dick about it means nobody will deal with them. If it’s not in the contract, it’s not in the deal, so you should be goddamn thorough. If the demon wrote it, read it and take your time reading it. Triple-check it.
Note how the focus is on the dangerous man firing energy blasts from his fists and not on the person with the wand firing it at dick-height.
Third: time is of the essence. What this means is that you should include deadlines and consequences to your contract to give yourself enough time to fulfill your half and to force the demon to fulfill theirs. Bargainers set the times of the contract for Greenwich Mean Time. I don’t know why.
Fourth: never promise more than you can pay. If you’re sufficiently desperate, the demon will take you for everything you’re worth. Don’t put your life on the line for a contract, figure out something fair that you can actually afford to give the demon. Save your soul if you can promise the demon a crate full of bunnies.
I'm imagining that the guy on the right is making a modem noise as the being comes into focus.
Fifth: if one side breaks the contract, the other side sets the punishment. If the Bargainer breaches, RIP. If the demon breaches, then the Bargainer has the demon at their mercy. They can make another beneficial bargain or they can have them punished.
Sixth: all disputes are handled by the Tribunal. The Tribunal consists of three judges who rule for life and are the higher court for solving contract disputes. They are Azabel (a succubus), Marie Laveau (the voodoo priestess) and Iron Mask (a guy in an iron mask). They’re generally fair despite favoring their native species but it all comes down to the case and the argument.
There are more detailed rules for making deals but they’ll crop up in the mechanics section.
"Ladies and gentlemen, for my first trick I require an infant from the audience!"
Bargainers come in different stripes and walks of life but they have to stay in contact with each other somehow. This comes down to ABE-L and BargainCon. Yes, BargainCon. ABE-L is a BBS/listserve moderated by Robin Laws (the writer, probably) that is generally hard to find because the users have to be secretive. It stands for “A Bargainer’s Exchange List” and it’s the latest means of staying in contact with fellow Bargainers. BargainCon takes place every March in the same stretch of time as the other magician cons. The Con isn’t cheap but it’s popular and it’s totally secret and it’s the best way to get direct contact with other Bargainers or jobs or materials. Bargainers have a board that run the con and they also generally have some other important Bargainers.
- Jethro Skye: Con Board president, pleasant old man, total pessimist.
- Jack Lazarus: Vice President, California native, famous vampire hunter of San Francisco, trying to make his own squad in Cali.
- Gillian Spielberg: Secretary, survived the Chicago disaster of 76 by making a deal as a little girl.
- Hans Bruce: Treasurer, giant dude, hardcore accountant.
- Bobby Cartman: Vietnam vet, disillusioned with Bargainer politics, keeps to himself.
- Rex Louis: loud, bearded, accomplished magician, bears more than a passing resembles to Penn Teller.
- Matt Marcus: goes by the name of Dr. Electro since he was accidentally electrocuted spilling a soda on his computer that caused him to lose his hair.
- Die Niebelung: German immigrant, taught by Houdini, is not interested in major power so he focuses on training students and is one of the top tutors.
- Peter the Kid: famously powerful Bargainer who leads the Conjurers, a Seattle-based group of Bargainers who do jobs for people through a website. The Conjurers are regarded with suspicion because they’re afraid they’re going to overthrow the group.
- Dan Ryan: Conjurer and lieutenant of Peter, showy and flamboyant firebrand.
Come for the gambling, stay for the damnation.
ENEMIES AND ALLIES
The Covenant: The Covenant doesn’t care if you’re talking to the Devil for a good cause, you’re still talking to the Devil. Bargainers are a prime target for Covenant activities and they’re way more organized and have plenty of holy soldiers.
Dukes of Hell: The Dukes have to actually approve the Demon’s request to cut a deal. If you keep making deals with the Demons and if you fuck them at every turn, you get the Duke’s attention. They can’t do anything across dimensions but yell at you all day and all night in a voice only you can hear. However, they can obstruct your Bargains at every turn and effectively cut you off.
Devil Worshippers: Devil worshippers don’t actually have any power to talk to demons but they’re invariably unpleasant and make Bargainers look bad. But sometimes they end up with a tome or a means to actually contact Demons. And then shit goes bad for everyone.
"Hmmm. I could take my flask totem...but I also own a gun..."
Delta Prime: No Bargainers work for Delta Prime. If you get caught, they kill you. If you register with the DRA, you get shipped off to a mental hospital.
Angels: Angels don’t talk to Bargainers. Actually, Angels don’t have their own holy equivalent of Bargainers. But sometimes angels get trapped on Earth. Should one cross the path of a Bargainer, nine times out of ten the angel will want to kill them on sight. A Bargainer should be prepared to book it if they find an angel.
The Union: The Union is the fancy name for the Bargainers united. The current leader/president of the Union is a guy by the name of Danny Landers. As a whole, the Union offers support to Bargainers who need it and shun the ones who violate the trust.
"WELCOME TO NETHERWORLD.TRIPOD.COM, THE HOTTEST HELL WEBSITE ON THE NET"
Defiance: The recommendation for being friends with Defiance is to just join up with them undivided. The Delta Warriors are terrorists, the religious beliefs of the Pax might not be tolerant of talking to demons, and the Isla Delta movement really just doesn’t offer anything to Bargainers. The recommendation is to help the Defiants when you can and make friends with other Deltas in case you need help.
Regular Demons: They make good allies if you can get what you need out of them for the right price. But they’re not human and they don’t think like humans so forming a working relationship is generally tricky.
Other Magicians: People of other religions are generally open-minded enough to listen to a Bargainer if they need help. Ostensibly, despite the heavy emphasis on Judeo-Christian demons and angels, there are other religions and magical types out there getting power somehow. This book only mentions two of them: voodoo and shamanism. This is because both the houngan/mambo and the shaman have the same relationship Bargainers have. Practitioners of voodoo make contact and deals with the loa for power (like Marie Laveau did). Shamans tend to be more reclusive with their explanations; their power is attributed to American Indian shamanism/animism with a focus on animal spirits. Either way, both groups wield a power as real as a Bargainer’s.
"Baby check it out, you made the hot sheets!" "Oh man I look ugly."
Thoughts about the intro and fluff: Uhhh. Well. I’m sort of torn. I have more to say about this than I have for the other intro fluff for the past two books. Let’s start with the high points:
High Points: There’s a lot of new fluff to share, a lot of new world-building and fleshing out. The Bargainer in the core book takes up the lion’s share of the fluff spread around in the section on Deltas and this adds more but in a good way. It’s all actually thought out and expressed in a readable way (even if I did have to rearrange some of it). Also the use of Famous Historical People is less egregious.
Low Points: SCOPE CREEP. Bargainers are people who are like “who gives a shit about economic inequality when global warming will kill us all!” They place themselves up on this pedestal with this bigger problem and ‘oooh I’m fighting for a bigger reason than you are’. Can an outside-context villain work in a RPG? Yes, absolutely. Is this implemented well? No, not really. And Heaven and Hell are both the bad guys in this scenario, Judeo-Christian Heaven and Hell? C’mon that’s just too fucking 90s even for this book. You know what handled this kind of thing and scope creep better? Unisystem’s Armageddon following up from Witchcraft. Also, I could not give less of a fuck about the important people in the Bargainer culture. They’re just existing and not doing much. They don’t get much of a hook besides the Conjurers wanting to change the game by making a more formal network of do-gooders. It’s window-dressing, there’s no real plot hooks for 90% of that and what little is there is very unsatisfactory.
YELLIN' AT THE NUN
In short: thank you for giving us more info about the least-fitting type of superhero in this setting. In a world of Splodehogs and Goku Blasters, you have given us the shitty child of John Constantine and David Blaine. That child will grow up to be the chosen one who wields the Dark Side of the Force to bring balance to the Earth by turning its home dimension into an isolationist third party. And the only way I assume they will do this is by locking out all Demons or Angels or giving the dimension some kind of nuclear option to make them back the fuck up. Neither of these seems very likely or possible. As a result it sounds like Bargainers are pissing in the wind while they attempt to justify why they threw a crate full of bunnies in a river for the Devil.
When we get into the higher functions of how to play a Bargainer, you will very quickly find that being a Bargainer and dealing with devils is a lot like an unironic game of Kill Puppies For Satan. Voodoo practitioners and shamans get a better deal of things and so do Covvies. Also to add insult to injury, there are no rules for playing a houngan, mambo or shaman. They simply exist and aren't they lovely?
And here's the cheesecakiest pic in this half of the book.
NEXT TIME: the mechanics of the deal, spells and premade characters.
BARGAINS AND BARGAINERSOriginal SA post
BARGAINS AND BARGAINERS
God, “bargain” seems like a non-word to me at the moment. So the game describes the Bargainer as “one of the most flexible and powerful power packages” and this is blatantly untrue because a Bargainer is not a Blaster. They also admit that the Bargainer in the core book was a snippet of a view and they did their best to make it not look out of place. Look, when you put “summon demons, make deals with them and cast spells” up against “fly” and “gun better”, you have fundamentally failed making your shit look coherent. But now it’s time to share the new totems and add the aspect of spell-casting to the Bargainer, so let’s get down to brass tacks. There are two things you need to know: a spell is gained with a quick negotiation and a handshake, a totem is a business deal with paperwork.
HOYLE’S BOOK OF RULES FOR CUTTING A BARGAIN WITH DEMONS
The first step is to contact the demons in your head and ask around for the one demon that can get you what you want. The first obstacle is the fact that most demons don’t speak English, but as a sign of good will they’ll offer you a free hit of a translation spell to negotiate. This step applies for both totems and spells.
The amount of totems and spells you can have depends on your Spirit. High Spirit means you’re more of a desirable business partner and valuable mark. So to contact a demon to get a totem, you have to make a TN 10 Spirit roll and kind of just actively look around for 24 hours in your head. You can reduce the searching time by 8 hours but raise the TN by 5, meaning you can get the demon you need instantly on a fucking impossible TN 25 Spirit roll. If this roll fails, try again the next day.
Have you found the demon? Cool. Now you have to propose a deal to the monster in your head. This is a TN 10 Spirit roll that takes up to 24 hours and also involves roleplaying between you and the GM playing the demon. Demons are interested in pain and suffering and, well: “The GM has full guidelines for running these negotiations. All we can do is tell you to be prepared for the worst. This is not meant to be pretty, and it should test your hero’s resolve to its limits”. Lovely! So if you make this roll and roleplay it out, you have a basic verbal agreement and you can move forward.
Now it’s time to make the contract. The Bargainer normally makes the contract and this is another TN 10 Spirit roll that can take up to 24 hours. Alternately, if you need it now you can have the demon write the contract and they can just whip one up on the spot. The downside of a demon-written contract is that it’s going to be full of loopholes for the demon to abuse.
Chandler's First Law of Theology: use an angel bursting in with a gun to speed up the action in a parable.
When the ink is dry, summon your business partner and negotiate the terms of the contract with the demon. This, again, takes a TN 10 Spirit roll and can take up to 24 hours. If you let the demon write the contract, you get +10 to the Spirit roll and you can just skip negotiating. However, there’s no way any of that is fair to you.
You have to find a suitable totem, something around the size of a wand or something you can easily use as a focus. The demon will grab a lesser demon and shove them into the totem then top it off with a little bit of their own power. Demons are picky fuckers and you can’t just choose a gun or a ring you got at a thrift store. You have to make a TN 15 Scrounging roll over 24 hours to find the right item. If you want to drop the time searching, raise the TN by 5.
The last thing you have to do is hold up your end of the deal with the demon, no matter what it is. There are no rolls here: do it and get your totem empowered fully or fail and try again (or face the consequences).
So say you fail a Spirit roll at any point. If it’s a normal failure, just try again unless there’s a time limit. If it’s a Disaster (majority of 1s), the demon gets pissed off and bails on the whole deal. You have to start over from finding a demon. If you roll all 1s during a roll, you have accidentally set the demon free on Earth and there’s nothing stopping them from going on a rampage.
Attuning a Totem: Say you find someone else’s totem. You already have the bargaining demon and the totem itself, you can skip those steps. You still have to verbally negotiate, write a contract, negotiate more and fulfill the contract. Generally speaking, the demon who made the totem will try to pitch the same deal and same powers attached to the totem but you can possibly change that.
Destroying a Totem: You can’t accidentally break a totem, you have to do it willingly. Any accidental strikes not meaning to break/hit the totem just deflect off. If it’s being purposefully attacked, it can only take a reasonable amount of damage inherent to the item. Fragile totems suck, make yours out of iron. Destroying a totem kills the demon inside of it and the demon that negotiated for it is banned from this dimension for a year, so no making new totems for a year through them. This also frees the Bargainer from any obligations to the demon at the cost of a broken, useless totem.
Did you already make a Bargainer in the core book? You poor sucker. If you did, enter play knowing exactly what your hero did for their totems. Finally, as long as you touch a totem, you’re in constant mental contact with the demon attached. If you make a disastrous roll while using a totem, the demon attached may decide that the totem is being misused or you’re unworthy. Make a TN 5 Spirit roll and add +5 for every totem you own. If you fail, the totem is shut off for one hour per 5 points short, minimum one hour.
Y'know there's something about this photo that reminds me of Astrix and Obelix.
It’s a TN 5 Spirit roll to find the demon that can give you the spell you need. If you fail, you can try again in an hour. Then, make a TN 5 Spirit roll to make a simple verbal agreement to exchange a favor for one reserved shot of that spell. Fulfill your end of the agreement and you get one future use of that power. You can reserve one spell per point in Spirit and if you’ve got too many, you can break a previous agreement or just use the spell before getting more. You can also promise an IOU to the demon on a TN 10 Spirit roll during negotiation and have up to Spirit IOUs.
To cast a spell, make a TN 5 Spirit roll and use a single action. If you fail, it’s still on reserve until you try another roll. You only lose access to the spell if you successfully cast it.
Babylon: Affect up to Spirit people with the inability to understand anything said to them and make them unintelligible for ten minutes. This is because the people affected can only speak a Hellish dialect or hear things in that tongue. You can still use ASL, gesture or write to get through to people.
Blustery Wind: Affect a room or a 10 yard sphere. The wind is strong enough to put out candles, ruffle clothes and blow away hats. In a sandy or snowy area, add +4 to any TN for ranged attacks. Also add 5 to Intimidation rolls against people affected by the wind as long as they don’t know anything about Bargainers or the supernatural.
Chill: Drop the temperature by 20 degrees in a 10 yard sphere projected up to 50 yards away. This gives you +5 to intimidate people who got chilled. You can also focus the cold in one point to drop it to 60 degrees.
Detect Magic: Sense the presence/source of any magic or Deltas up to 10 yards away for 10 minutes.
"New orb who this."
Hellcast: Turn a reflective surface up to 20 inches away into a scrying surface for 10 minutes. You can hazily see the other person you’re “calling” and if they “answer” the picture gets clearer and you can converse until either side hangs up or it ends. While using Hellcast, both parties can see each other as clear as a Skype call, projected in front of each other. Using Hellcast to find a demon means you don’t need to roll to find them and adds +5 to any roll to verbally negotiate with that demon.
Immunity: Seal off your digestive, pulmonary and respiratory system to protect it from poison, gas, disease, breathing, suffocation, extreme fire or extreme cold. This doesn’t protect against indirect damage or attacks. You could probably cast this spell and use it in lieu of STI protection, turning your genitals into a closed system. This is just me being silly and bored, sorry.
Lighter: Cause a small flame to erupt on something within your line of sight. Light cigars, impress people with prestidigitation, commit arson.
Lightbulb: Summon a red-tinted globe of light between your hands for ten minutes. If you open your hands, you can mentally control where it goes. The orb can act as a distraction in darker areas, adding +4 to the TN of enemy ranged attacks.
Shade: Create supernatural darkness that takes up a sphere of five yards around the caster. The Bargainer can shape how it looks and you can’t see anything inside the area from the outside by any means. From the inside, it’s maddeningly unclear if you can actually see anything.
Silence: Create a sphere up to 3 yards in diameter around the Bargainer that nullifies all sound inside from escaping. You can hear noises from outside of the area, you can hear them from inside, it’s just that the inside noises don’t go out. You can also shape the size of the area.
Understand: For ten minutes, anything you hear, write or say can be understood perfectly by you or any other person witnessing it. You can hear any language, say anything in English with someone in Japan understanding it and write something that anyone can comprehend. This is the spell that demons like to use to facilitate communication.
Unstun: Cast on yourself or someone else with a trigger that lasts for one whole combat. This immediately undoes stun and prevents any further stun for the rest of the combat encounter.
White Noise: Fill a target’s head with white noise for a minute. They can’t concentrate (requiring an extra success for any active roll), they can’t understand what’s being said to them but they’re pretty much immune to any Persuasion roll against them.
This guy is like straight out of some kind of doofy slapstick comedy, look at this face.
As a reminder: to use a totem, it has to be held in a hand. If contact is broken, the powers end. You can only use one totem at a time. The previous two totems are Mimic (tap a Delta with it, copy their powerset completely) and Delta (perfectly replicate one Delta’s powerset for as long as you want but only that powerset).
Anti-Magic: You’re 100% immune to any Bargainer power or Covenant power. You are also completely immune to any Delta’s powers used against you. This doesn’t protect against indirect affects: you’re 100% immune to a Blaster’s energy balls (!) but a Gunner can shoot you dead. Also, any time a Delta or supernatural being touches you, they lose their powers as long as they touch you. You can’t grab someone and do this, they have to touch you. Immune to this snuffing: demons, Alphas.
Hellcaster: At-will Hellcast anyone you have met for as long as you want. Using the Hellcaster totem means you don’t need to roll to find a demon for bargains and gives them +10 to any roll used to cut a deal.
Immunity: Perma-immunity as long as you hold your totem.
Protection: Because you have to summon a demon to finish the deal, this runs risks. You have to draw a pentagram (for reasons) and as long as the pentagram is intact the demon can’t leave the circle. Standard demonic shit. The Protection totem is insurance against the times that the demon manages to breach the circle and go on a rampage. Any creature from another realm (demon, alien, Cenobite, Time Pony) can’t come within three yards all around the totem’s wielder and they can’t directly attack them. They can in fact indirectly attack them (destroying the room, telling someone else to attack them) and if the Bargainer ever touches the entity the entity can touch right back.
As the magician keeps shooting tentacles out of the hat, they start turning different colors and are knotted together like scarves.
Seal Totem: Permanently shut a door or enclosure. It only works if the area is self-contained when all entryways are shut. The seal is airtight and watertight and it’s all protected from all damage. Once the seal is on, it can’t be removed without being destroyed but the Bargainer can open and shut it as much as you want or make a key to open the seal. Only the demon that made the seal can destroy it, requiring a TN 30 Spirit roll. It’s explicitly mentioned that Bargainers like to put these on their houses and cars to make them indestructible.
Summoning: Any rolls used to find a demon or convincing them to sign a contract have the TN reduced by 10 to Automatic if at 0. The Summoning totem can also be used to summon a demon and use it for other people’s bargains.
Translation: Perma-Understand. You can also understand “morse, ASCII, semaphore and encrypted messages”.
Ward: Trace out an area and create a magical alarm if people trespass who aren’t on a list you can change at any time.
Thoughts: Okay. Let’s take it from the top before we talk about the premade characters.
The Summoning/Hellcaster totem is absolutely vital to the process of doing a Bargain because as written it’s real fucking tricky to do any of this. You’re rolling off fucking blind Spirit, you need one of your dice to roll a 6 and at least a 4. If my shit math is accurate, a single d6 has 8.3% chance of success. I am, admittedly, not good at probability. If anyone can figure out the probability of a success on, say, a 4d6 for beating a TN 10 on the way these dice explode that’d be appreciated. You have to do this four times total on a blind Spirit roll. You have nothing boosting/helping this without either of those totems or just letting the demon do most of it. It’s fucking ridiculous and it’s a big fucking distracting process that goes on and on over the span of four days at least. It’s probably going to take longer because of the chance of failure!
So you’ve got your Hellcaster/Summoning totem so you’ve got a better chance of making totems. Not counting those two, the Immunity, Anti-Magic and maybe the Translation totems are worth it. Maybe get a Tough totem (y’know I have no idea how a Bomber totem would work). Except. Except for the fact that every totem means you have to pay a terrible price. A cruel sacrifice has to be made. And that’s just not fun. I mean, it could work thematically in certain games and it could be a compelling plot thing. I’m not saying it couldn’t work. But the whole group would have to be on board with that and this is a fucking gritty superhero game. Horrible sacrifice to demonic entities just doesn’t fit. Also if you take all of those, you’re now out of totems because I assume you have Spirit 5 and all you can do is fuck around with demons and get magic spells. You’ve got these defenses but they’re pretty fucking situational. You’re doing too much and where do you fit in with the group?
As for spells, they’re as good as the cost that you have to pay. It’s a light cost and the spells are kind of shit. You can only hold so many spells at once, you need to pick them and bargain for them in advance and they’re all pretty damn situational. Immunity, Detect Magic and Understand would probably be the top picks for spells. I just…I can’t recommend them.
Everything the fucking Covenant does is better than what you can do. They know their magical abilities forever, they can summon holy fire or get ripped or gain armor and none of what they do requires sacrifice. You could probably even just get all edgy and drop the majority of the religious trappings and find yourself or however you want to spin it. It also just takes way less time and effort to be in the Covenant. And I have no fucking idea how anything you do help save the world when no matter your intentions sacrifices must be made and blood must be shed for the actual powers which are heavily limited and which heavily limit whatever it is you can do. It’s ridiculous; they went from a lump on the game system to a full-blown malignant plot tumor full of shitty mechanics and ridiculous “OUR MISSION IS BIGGER THAN DEFIANCE” bullshit.
The vanilla Bargainer is included in this section and I will not be revisiting him. All of my previous complaints still stand.
Dang, she angular. I dig the aesthetic.
Dealmaker: The Dealmaker is the one Bargainer most likely to fuck everything over in regards to roleplay and metaplot thanks to her Charmer totem. Aside from that she’s really just incredibly focused in making a killing in the stock market. She could really just abandon the voices and the demons and just make a dumb amount of money. She’s also got that law background, which is good for her. Honestly she’s got her shit together the most compared to the others but she’s built for social combat instead of anything else. She’s got AP rounds in a gun she can’t even use. I can’t really recommend her because you could do this exact same thing, this exact same schtick with the Charmer Delta which is exactly what the Defiance book does.
*plays some kind of darkwave synth action theme*
Hard-Boiled Haggler: Dude, where’s your longcoat and katana? Anti-Magic is a good fit for this kind of guy because he’s, well. He would very much like to be the premade Snuffer. That guy was cool. I dug his deal. They’re trying to make an anti-magic Snuffer, sort of. It’s a shame his stats and skills don’t really match up to his theme. He’s okay across the board but he’s not stellar at anything and I don’t exactly see him being totally competent at actually hunting down creatures of the netherworld and shooting them.
Is that a skirt or, like, long-ass pants? This is what I wonder.
New Ager: What do you do. Judging by that Immunity totem you can do all the drugs you want, drink until the bar runs dry but you have zero plot hooks. You have a van and a computer and you’re okay with that. But you have no point. You just exist. Ugh.
Hmm yes, fire is clearly written words.
Occultist: I don’t see a soldier as much as I see someone qualified enough to bargain for days because of that Summoning totem. It’s a shame you have a shitload in Smarts when you could have just pumped your Spirit up. Then you could have all of the bases covered for totems and a shitload of guilt for your terrible deeds. Or you could keep summoning demons and having your Blaster/Bomber friend murder them to protect mankind. Also you can’t use that gun.
Last time I saw a guy throwing a bird out of a hat on the streets it was much more profane.
Street Magician: You can’t use that knife. You also don’t have much to you. Mimic totem? Sure, whatever. You too are just there. Do illusions on the waterfront to save the world or whatever.
Thoughts on the premades: Fuck ‘em. The only one of them that has any real plot hook is the Haggler. They base their existence on them being a sliver of an idea and then they just throw Bargainer into the mix. And they just don’t get much to do. Even if these were in another system, I don’t think I’d like them all that much. They’re just not…good.
NEXT TIME: setting secrets and premade enemies. Let’s get ready to shut this book.
THE TRUTH OF THE MATTEROriginal SA post
THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER
Okay, so. There’s less lies being told and more omissions of truth this time around, denial of information.
This picture was actually in two parts on two pages and I did my best to put them together but you can still see the seam in the middle and how it doesn't EXACTLY line up. Anyway the new Doom is lookin' good.
Mr. Twist runs the Bargainer website and is sort of a celebrity. He is not trusted in any form of government or power among Bargainers because he is a fucking monster. In the pursuit of power to save the world, Twist has sacrificed members of his family in exchange for totems and he keeps this secret. Because of this, nobody in power who knows his secret trusts him.
Shazbatt is Shazbatt. He’s not lying about anything. He’s just not elaborating on certain things. Demons that get caught lying for their contract or who break contracts go before the Tribunal but some of them will offer a very good discount on the next totem instead (close to free even) or force their hand regarding other means. Of course, if someone finds out you’ve been extorting totems from demons due to blackmail…
What do Heaven and Hell want with the BNW Dimension besides owning it? They want souls. Everyone has a soul, but what happens to your soul when you die depends on what you believe. Believe in a faith with an Abrahamic basis (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity)? Your soul goes to a Heaven-allied dimension or a Hell-allied dimension depending on how in tune you are with their teachings. I’m not saying “good person and Christian? Go to Heaven. Bad person and Christian? Go to Hell”. It’s more like “do you believe in Christianity and have you done a good job living up/listening to those teachings? Heaven. Do you believe and have you not done such a good job? Hell”. Do you believe in Buddhism/Hinduism? Reincarnation. Atheist/agnostic/deist? Reincarnation. Shinto? Reincarnation, probably. True atheist? Still reincarnation. It only spells out what happens to Christianity, everyone else gets the shrug of ‘reincarnation’. What exactly do Heaven or Hell want with the souls? Excellent question, ask again in a later book.
"AUUUUUUUUUUGHHHHHHH" "Shut up and let me stab you." "HUEUUUUUUUERRRRRGHHHHHHAAAAAAGH!" "You are making this so weird."
Lone Wolves are Bargainers who never joined the organization and have had to figure things out the hard way but aren’t crazy. Most of them live with being unable to understand the voices but sometimes they find one who knows the Understand spell and will offer to bargain with them. Lone wolves focus more on spells because they’re afraid of bargaining for a totem or messing the process up without training. But there are of course people who are more than willing to pay those prices.
The Iron Mask is Houdini who faked his death to keep his loved ones safe from the demons and his deals. He bailed on the BNW dimension to become a dimensional traveler to learn about the Armageddon war and the nature of the supernatural. Somewhere along the line he became an Alpha and broke all the fucking rules: he doesn’t need to bargain with anyone for spells or totems. He can directly affect the physical world with the force of a demon or angel and doesn’t need an invitation to go anywhere. He crafted the mask as an identity protector: you can’t monitor him by any means. His current mission when he’s not serving on the Tribunal? Continue exploring alternate dimensions and teach the human race what he knows to help put everyone on the same power level as him to protect them all from Armageddon. Okay that’s actually not that bad of a plan, Houdini.
Marie Laveau is the real deal and she too is an Alpha like Houdini. Unlike Houdini, she doesn’t really care about the dimensional war. What she’s interested in is amassing power for “her and her followers”. Who does this entail? Probably people interested in voodoo or black people, it’s incredibly vague. Who knows, it might just be an army of corgis. What is known is that, uh, the Haitian government is now a puppet under her control to try and make voodoo the official religion and transform Haiti into a home for her followers. She wants people to convert to voodoo and making the UN recognize voodoo would help her.
"Look we're never going to get to nationals if you can't make this free-throw." "Why the fuck are there nationals? This is Heaven, isn't it?" "Oooh, no, you're actually in Sports Hell." "Can I still dunk?" "Sure, go nuts."
The Conjurers, specifically Peter the Kid, are so popular and powerful because Peter cut a bargain with an angel instead of a demon. This angel was rogue who is intentionally going against Heaven’s “hands off” policy and he’s named…
When you cut a bargain with an angel instead, the fee is different: they want souls saved for God and Heaven. This makes getting spells and totems stupid easy if you go to the soup kitchen or donate to charity and explicitly tell people you’re doing it for Christianity. His relationship with Ritchyrd is hidden and both of them aren’t willing to disclose it to other people. Peter’s ultimate goal if he gets a majority movement in Bargainer culture? Offer bargains with angels as an alternative to get the power to help save the world.
The Covenant is not as murderous as the Bargainers make them out to be. Most American Covvies love the sinner but hate the sin and are willing to work with a Bargainer without enabling their bargaining. If they already have a totem, what’s done is done and they can’t change that. Most Covvies, however, are fine with letting a Bargainer make enough rope to hang.
Delta Prime does in fact take in Bargainers. Reagan ( ugh) offers them a job or jail and the job specifically is in Investigation as a Man in Black. The Men in Black specifically deal with Bargainers for the US government. Men in Black agents get a Changeling totem to blend in to hunt targets and they get another Delta totem to empower them and make them look like a proper Delta if they get rumbled by Prime at large.
The Union or the Bargainer community at large is working on recruiting more Bargainers from all walks of life. They don’t want to wait for more people find them, they want to actively recruit.
"I cast Summon Greater SWAT Team."
Defiance really doesn’t like finding out that Bargainers are working with demons. They like to keep secrets from them lest their allies turn into an angry mob.
Other magics “don’t have space to be expounded upon in this book but just use shaman and Voodoo practitioners anyway”. Their magic works the same was as Bargainers but they cut deals with animal spirits or the loa.
THE TRUTH ABOUT BARGAINS
The price paid for spells and totems is generally heavy. The point of bargaining is to try and pay less than what a demon would want normally without any haggling.
The price of a spell is a random act of cruelty towards a stranger that causes hard feelings. The reason it’s just a verbal agreement is because the demon won’t ask for more than that and they want to see the goods before they fork over a spell. We’re not talking cutting someone off in traffic, we’re talking about tripping a blind man, spitting in a stranger’s face, letting the air out of someone’s tires. If it ruins their day or puts them in a funk for a few hours, it’s good enough for a spell.
The price of a totem is something uncomfortable or unambiguously evil. Because the demon has to go through the hassle of stuffing another demon in a bit of wood and has to give up a sliver of their power, they want an entertaining return of investment. As previously mentioned, giving up your soul is a valid price to pay, as is giving your life or the lives of others.
That book just contains all of his shitty stories from when he was a teenager, you're mistaking that emo feeling for the taint of demonic power.
Now, the demons don’t actually care who gets hurt. You could very well use cruelty against a bad person without telling the demon they’re bad. You could target someone you don’t like. You can have the best intentions in the world (like saving the world) but it’s still evil. It’s like how Brooklyn 99 said: cool story, still murder. And the game wants you to rub that in the player’s face.
You’re recommended to not let the Bargainer off easy. You’re recommended to create a fully separate scene with just you (the GM) and the Bargainer’s player without the other players unless you want them to know just how low they’ll go. Work through the scene methodically, get the player to articulate just what they’re doing, show the pain of the victim, make the Bargainer know damn well that they’re responsible for the suffering and what they’ve done is terrible. Make sure they don’t like it and “if the hero backs off and starts to rethink her decisions, you’ve succeeded” or else “someone else” will have to “show them the error of their ways”. If they go through with it, the wronged person should want revenge. Basically, keep track of all of the Bargainer’s sins and everyone they’ve hurt and whip them out when you want to punish the Bargainer and the rest of the party. And who knows how the other players will feel when they realize their spell-slinging buddy is actively doing evil for their powers.
Thoughts on the secrets: Fucking wow.
So, never be a fucking Bargainer. The GM is encouraged to make you miserable for doing everything in this book and this metaplot. You want to cut deals with people? Talk to the animal spirits or the loa, they’ll treat you better. It’s incredibly wrongheaded that your afterlife, as written, amounts to Heaven, Hell or reincarnation. Houdini’s kind of on the right track of things after starting this whole shitty movement but he’s just one superman trying to fix everything and it’s slow fucking going for him. Marie Laveau’s thing is just stapled on terribly and it’s incredibly awkward. Honestly this whole thing is just fucked and bad. Who would want to deal with any of this? This is a terrible reality and state of affairs and just drags down the rest of this bad game.
"I already know the greatest spell of all, Balthazar, and your sacrifice won't protect you. I know all about the mystic art of...Gun." "Well shit."
THE TEMPLE OF SIN
The Temple of Sin is an apocalyptic demon-worshipping religion (read: cult) that is being monitored by the government, Delta Prime and even Defiance as a national threat. They’re lead by Damon Lieber, who is actually Mr. Twist with a Changeling totem who runs the cult to do the works of his demonic sugar daddies. Pretty much everyone in the Temple is just a regular person who has been seduced by promises of a purpose and power when the world ends. As such, the sample worshipper is a regular person.
Dude what the hell are you doing, just hold the book normally. You look like a big brooding jerk.
Thoughts on the Temple of Sin: So remember how in the first part of this review regular devil worshippers are considered to be scum who give the Bargainers a bad reputation? And it turns out this national doomsday cult is run by a Bargainer who is doing stuff for his demonic buddies? Yeah. This is just wholly unnecessary and it’s stupid. Mr. Twist is a gigantic dickhead and I hate him more with every passing page. And yeah, this sample enemy is a regular damn person who has been brainwashed by a magical dickhead. Bargainers: hypocritical to the end.
This time around instead of a regular Covvie they’re offering up the Exorcist. Exorcists are Covvies with specialized training to destroy supernatural creatures and exorcise people. They have a minimum of Occult: 3 and hide in plain sight as regular clergy before they have to suit up to shoot a demon in the face. All Exorcists are required to show no mercy to Bargainers, zero-tolerance across every continent instead of however the average Covvie would behave around them. The Covenant keeps the Exorcists secret and it’s even a secret to the Bargainers.
SUPER ACTION EXORCIST, NEW FROM HASBRO! HIS CROSSBOW REALLY SHOOTS! TWENTY POINTS OF ARTICULATION! COMES WITH KUNG-FU BLESS CHOP!
Thoughts on the Exorcist: Well I mean. This guy is really good at what he does and he even has a good collection of holy powers even though he’s a pacifist. He’s pretty well equipped to kill a Bargainer. A supernatural creature? Ehhh not so much as we’ll see.
A demon can look like anything you imagine and they have a good variety of powers. For starters, they can use all spells at will. Which really isn't that good. But they can also gain a Delta powerset on the fly, switching from one to the other as they please, which is a problem. Demons come in many shapes and sizes and their stats range from 1d6 to 10d6 which is fair and balanced. Pick whatever you feel like. They only fight if they know they can win so they'll just run unless they have an unfair advantage. They also can't be killed easily. If a demon is killed in a dimension that isn't their own, they get shoved back to their home dimension and can't return to where they were killed for 100 years. The only way to kill them is to kill them in their home dimension so they generally live somewhere else and lie about where they're from.
Demonmorph. Xenomon? Whatever.
Thoughts on Demons: Ha ha do you get it he's a demon. So here's the fun thing: he's pretty damn good at melee. He can reasonably do a lot of melee things. But he has no defenses unless he wants to bust out a Tough powerset. He also has no ranged capabilities unless he busts out an appropriate powerset. A sufficiently prepared Blaster with Superblast can cut this demon's wounds in half in, say, the chest just by the 20 damage buff alone. However, you can just taze him repeatedly in the ribs to make him roll off blind TN 9 Strength roll to make him resist Stun. And as it turns out, that is actually the best course of action to take this specific demon down. While he's stunned then you can just keep unleashing the pain as two people alternate stunning him. So yeah, you can just stunlock this guy and keep kicking him until he dies.
Here come the Men in Black. These Bargainers are teamed with another Primer with regular powers to keep them on a short leash and make sure they stay loyal. The powers don't matter, all that matters is that their partner is loyal to a paranoid degree. Reagan really doesn't trust their Bargainers. There's also the Men in White who are Bargainers in white labcoats teamed with Gadgeteers and fuck you Deadlands get the fuck out of here. Reagan is convinced that the two fields can be combined and as a result there are now some Primer hovercars turned indestructible by a Seal totem. Other than that there hasn't been much success in powering pseudo-science powertech with human sacrifice and to that I say fucking good. We get it, Delta Prime is incredibly corrupt, they don't need to power all of their shit with Ghost Rock.
"I'm from a secret branch of the US Government. You can tell that by how high my pants are."
Thoughts on Delta Prime: Oh so it's just a Watcher. Alright. Shoot him in the head and then shoot his Bargainer buddy. Not much to say about him, he's pretty bog-standard and is more trained in shooting than actually using his powers (because his one reliable power, Microwave Vision, rolls off Spirit which is only 2d6). He's only a threat with a gun and even then not so much.
THE HEAVENLY HOST
Bring it on down to angel-town. The Seraphim is the angelic equivalent of a Navy SEAL but they can only go to Earth to enforce the pact. God doesn't really send angels down to Earth unless shit is broken. But then some of them go rogue, like Ritchyrd, or "fall" which is really just going super rogue and batshit.
I like her design except for the facial expression that makes her look like she's constipated.
Thoughts on the Seraph: Noooope. Get the fuck away from that lady if you're on her bad side. I mean, granted, the people on her bad side are going to be predominantly Bargainers but I still wouldn't be anywhere near them. She has an immediate combat advantage over a regular demon by way of flaming armor and flaming sword, she's just gonna straight up beat him in a fight.
Here, have the complete author's afterword to see what Forbeck has to say about the book.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON BARGAINERS
Noooope. Nope. Don't bother. There is none of this that is good, there is none of this that's redeemable or usable or fun. It's both incredibly uncomfortable and incredibly unfun because it's presenting all of this shit for you to do tied up in dumb bureaucratic rules BUT DON'T YOU DARE ENJOY IT, YOU FILTHY SINNING MOTHERFUCKER. I can't recommend using any of this ever in any capacity unless you want them to be bad guys. Just throw it the fuck out. There are no good plot hooks, there's no good way to use any of these powers, the spells just aren't any good and neither are the totems. I knew from the first time I heard about this book that it wasn't going to be worth the data it's stored on but it's just even worse in execution somehow. The dumb religious shit is just a cherry on top. I can't even muster up a fuck to give about this book anymore, I am just done with it.
Five down, four to go. We are officially on the downward slide. NEXT TIME we're going to take a look at BRAVE NEW WORLD: GLORY DAYS which is about World War II and the fight against the Nazis before the birth of Superior. This book is tied with the core book in size (226 pages) and has a lot more to it that the other supplement books, including the first premade adventure not attached to a GM screen. So it's going to take a bit more than just three or four updates but spoilers: it's not getting much better than this one.
Forbeck's name getting cut off isn't my doing, that's how it appears on the book. Some of the scans? Not so good.