Tale: A Glitch in Time, or How One Critical Failure Killed a Dimension

As with everything else in existence, there is the right time and the wrong time for a critical failure.

The right time is when it makes something mundane interesting. If a critical failure sends your charging warrior careening straight into the dragon’s open mouth, that’s interesting. You’re not just swinging at it with an axe anymore – now you’re fighting for your life as it tries to swallow you down, wondering all the while when it’s going to remember to use its devastating fire breath. The wrong time, then, is when it makes something interesting mundane. That’s the most common result – you just didn’t hit, you’re still paralyzed, the spell didn’t work, the cool thing didn’t happen.

Except sometimes, sometimes, a truly wonderful failure occurs. A universal, game-changing mistake. A screw-up for the ages. An epic failure, in the most literal use of the word. This is a story of one of such failure, a failure involving mad science, a magical holy giant robot, and the potential death of billions (?) of sentient (?!) creatures (?!?), we don’t know, we didn’t check.

 

The game is Shadowrun.

If you don’t know Shadowrun, think: the cyberpunk future, except also with magic, and you’re all criminals. Monolithic megacorporations facing off against backyard wizards who learned their spells off of late-night infomercials. Down-and-out hackers siphoning information from corporate data-stores the size of literal countries. Back-alley cybernetic ninja warfare where one guy’s sword is alive and telling him to kill. The world is enormous, everything is dangerous, so learn how to protect yourself and find a way to get paid, except if it’s a dragon cutting the cheque.

Our story takes place at the end of a long string of jobs. Our group of shadowrunners, having undertaken an adventure that started with a simple bombing and ended with a long trek across redistributed borders and a tense deal with the worst kind of corporate asshole, was finally coming to a close. There was one last job: infiltrate a nuclear reactor that had been left on and abandoned and take out the awful monstrosity that had made its home inside. Said monstrosity was a Bug Spirit Queen, a malevolent admixture of human spellcaster and evil extradimensional insect spirit who had taken to investigating the runner group for potential successors and living in another runner’s backyard.

If left unchecked, she’d open a portal to the bug dimension, flood the world with ghost ants that liked to burrow into peoples’ souls and make themselves at home in there, and generally make the entire planet really itchy all the time. She had to go down. Also, the corporate asshole was paying us a lot.

The group was an eclectic one, a mix of technical expertise and magical power. Our hacker, Reg.Edit, was a quadriplegic decker with a bad attitude and the most absurdly well-armored scooter in the world. Our other tech-expert was Augmented Max, a barely post-teen rigger still living with Mom and Dad, with a habit of hiding complex spybots in adorable everyday items. Our artillery was Sam, a Native survivalist, gleeful purveyor of explosions, and secret dragon. Our utility mage was Hemlocke, a wage-mage in the process of breaking her chains with a taste for unethical magical research and mind control. Rounding out the party was Bloodhound, a gunbunny adept and drunken, dirty cop who took bribes and did runs to support his palliative octogenarian father. Together, we fought were crime!

Given that this was the endgame of a prolonged campaign, we were calling in every favor from every single person who had even the most tangential relation to us. Also, given that we were infiltrating the hive of a species of extradimensional insects that ate your soul and, oh, also, was in the bowels of a still-active nuclear reactor, we were also taking our damn time to buy weapons, mount those weapons on vehicles, research spells, scout the area, find God, and establish a half-dozen contingency plans if we should happen to walk in there and immediately die. Specifically:

Reg.Edit and Max had stolen a mining drone. Specifically, they had hacked into and walked off with an enormous load-hauler drone meant for excavating tunnels, and were pouring every iota of their enthusiasm and intellect into making that thing indestructible. They deconstructed it, reconstructed it with more armor plates and a control throne, gave it crab claws, deconstructed it again to add more struts to support more armor and, eventually, drew on Max’s lapsed Jewish heritage to call in the local Kabbalah Rabbi/wizard and make the thing a legitimate Golem. When go-time came around, it was heavy, ready, and willing to do its duty for God and the heavily-protected atheist hacker safely entombed in its core.

Meanwhile, the magical side of the group was similarly hard at work. Specifically, Hemlocke had acquired a sample of FAB3. Fluorescing Astral Bacteria is, in its most basic form, a happy little microorganism that glows prettily when something astral passes through it – but the form that Hemlocke got was the bigger, nastier, hungrier version that went after spiritual beings and ate them gruesomely. Being the owner of a mad science laboratory, she set about making the thing worse – hungrier, faster-growing, locomotive, resistant to radiation, heat and as much else as she could think of, and also able to enter a dormant state to survive lack of food and whatever else could get past its formidable defenses. When it was time to get moving, she had a small crate of the worst plague mankind has ever known, which was happily loaded onto the golembot (with a crane, from a far distance). This we labeled the Nuclear Option. Visibly, with warning tape.

The actual infiltration was an aquatic one. The group suited up in rad suits and respirators, secured an entrance into the reactor, had a brief and worrying fight with giant mutant magic fish, and then we were in. We carefully skirted the edge of the reactor, and then ran smack into a cyberzombie that had been tromping around since God Knows How Long, waiting for intruders to macerate. If you don’t know, a cyberzombie is, or was once, a person loaded up with cybernetic augmentations far past the point when their spirit could recognize their body as their own, and kept alive through a regimen of psychotherapy and necromancy because war crimes produce the best gosh-darn soldiers you’ve ever seen. This one was ancient, but still apt to kill our intrepid runners at a moment’s notice, and only vulnerable to one thing – a nice talking-to, as its cybernetic programming had long run afoul of its lingering personality, and it could be and was trapped in a logic loop until it fell into a nice, permanent coma.

That done, onto the chambers of the Queen. There was a brief scuffle with some warrior spirits as we made our way up, but nothing too dangerous – not until we reached her mighty throne room and found her standing astride an enormous, gaping portal to the Bug Dimension with her entire deadly, clicking court present to watch her monologue.

In our defense, we let her get a good couple of sentences in before we decided to chuck the plague at her and run away.

Except… except… this was where the Hand of Fate intervened. This was where the gods were watching, and with inhuman caprice decided to act, because the golem was the one handling the crate and it goddamn botched the throw.

We watched, silent and still, as the crate stuffed full of hellishly virulent, literal-soul-eating plague sailed through the air, arced down, and fell. Right into the portal. Which gulped, once, as if swallowing, and then closed forever.

The Queen asked us what that was. We told her. We asked her where the portal went. She told us. We asked her what would happen. She didn’t know. No one knew.

So, to hell with it: the guns came out and we had ourselves a nice, big dust-up. Fire was sprayed, bullets launched, golems stomped around, and eventually the Queen wound up burnt, shot, stepped on and frowned at until she was no more. Then we turned the reactor off, left, called in the airstrikes, and went to the pub for a beer.

Later that night and several beers later, the group found itself discussing the particulars of what happened back in the reactor. Closest we could figure, there were two options: the first is that the crate failed to rupture upon entering the Bug Dimension, and the second is that it did. Being as the Bug Dimension was an actual spiritual plane of existence, an ineradicable plague that ate spirits would be a bit of a problem there. I mean, we could have opened a portal or astrally projected there to have a look around, but best case scenario was a dimension full of apocalyptic, soul-stealing insects, and the worst case was a dimension full of apocalyptic, infinite plague.

We elected to collect our paychecks, pay our tabs, and leave that problem to the next guy.

 

Every mechanic in a role-playing game is there, ideally, to allow something awesome to happen. Every spell, item, weapon, monster and fiddly little rule is present to allow the Game Master to come up with excellent problems for the players to solve in awesome ways. Even the objectively negative things – getting hurt, getting killed, failing at something you wanted to do – is present to make the story more interesting.

With the right measure of imagination, and the right timing from the Fates, even the worst failure can literally change the world.

Stay healthy.

Pathfinder Sorcerer Bloodlines: Haemomancer, Lucky and Scintillating

In both Pathfinder and D&D, the sorcerer is my favorite class. My first real D&D character was an elf sorcerer, and it’s the class I keep coming back to when I’m roped into a pick-up game. The sorcerer has the power and allure of a wizard, but with less complication and more lasting power – and for the kind of spellcaster I tend to play (ie: artillery in fancy dress), the sorcerer is a damn fine class to fall back to.

While I don’t know enough about D&D 5e to effectively start tinkering with homebrew (it’s on my list, trust me), I have an intense love and respect for Pathfinder’s bloodline system and the versatility and expression it adds to my favorite class. If the original D&D 3.0 sorcerer was a wizard with some of the mechanics tinkered about with under the hood, the Pathfinder sorcerer is a fully-realized concept, a kind of magical X-Man whose grandparents got into some interesting bedroom antics. And being as I am a creature for whom homebrew ideas sprout in my head constantly while I’m trying to do other things, I’ve had these particular bloodline ideas tooling around in my skull for a while now.

The haemomancer bloodline represents a blood magus, a healthier and more disturbing kind of sorcerer who’s mastered the gooey systems of their own body and uses them to suck the juice out of their enemies. The lucky bloodline represents someone with no special background who, nevertheless, had the absurd luck to wake up one day with magical powers – no great destiny, no aberrant curse, no dragon grandpa, just the strange fortune of magic and genetics intersecting. The scintillating bloodline represents a magician who manipulates pure light – light divorced from the imagery of illusion and the ethos of good, light that burns, light that shines, and light that paints pretty colors on the northern nights.

I hope you find this useful!

Haemomancer Bloodline

The power in your blood is more literal than most. One of your ancestors took part in a powerful blood ritual or regularly drank the blood of their foes, and your living vitae still resonates with that long-gone sacrifice.

Class Skill: Heal.

Bonus Spells: grease (3rd); false life (5th); vampiric touch (7th); stoneskin (9th); magic jar (11th); acid fog (13th); polymorph, greater (15th); clone (17th); tsunami (19th).

Bonus Feats: Aberrant Tumor (aberrant bloodline prerequisite unnecessary if taken as a haemomancer bloodline bonus feat), Combat Casting, Diehard, Endurance, Enlarge Spell, Fast Healer, Great Fortitude, Toughness.

Bloodline Arcana: Whenever you gain temporary hit points, you gain double the amount. You are immune to the bleed condition.

Bloodline Powers: Your blood is suffused with magic. It cleaves to your will, strengthens you, and calls to the blood of your foes.

Blood Summons (Sp): Starting at 1st level you can draw out the vital essence of a living creature within 30 ft. that you can see and possesses blood (or some other vital bodily fluid) and use it to empower yourself as a standard action. This requires the creature to make a Fortitude save (DC 10 + 1/2 your sorcerer level + your Charisma bonus) or take 1d6 damage +1 for each sorcerer level you have as their blood seeps out of their body and streams into yours; in addition, every time a target fails this Fortitude save, you gain fast healing 2 for a number of rounds equal to half your sorcerer level, rounded down (minimum 1). You can use this ability a number of times per day equal to 3 + your Charisma modifier.

Sanguine Resilience (Ex): At 3rd level, you gain resist acid 5 and a +2 bonus on saving throws to resist ability damage and drain. At 9th level, your resistance to acid increases to 10 and your bonus on saving throws against ability damage and drain increases to +4.

Boil Blood (Sp): At 9th level, you gain the ability to boil a creature’s blood in their veins as a standard action. Choose a living creature within 60 ft. that you can see that possesses blood (or some other vital bodily fluid); that creature must succeed on a Fortitude save or take 1d6 points of fire damage per sorcerer level (save half). If this damage kills the creature, it explodes in a burst of boiling blood and steam, dealing 4d6 fire damage (Reflex half) to all creatures in a 20 ft. radius of the body. The DC of these saves are equal to 10 + 1/2 your sorcerer level + your Charisma modifier. At 9th level, you can use this ability once per day. At 17th level, you can use this ability twice per day. At 20th level, you can use this ability three times per day.

Manifestation of Blood (Su): At 15th level, you gain the ability to transform into an creature of living, liquid blood, as per the spell elemental body (water elemental only). You may transform into a medium elemental (as elemental body ii) twice per day, and a large elemental (as elemental body iii) once per day. At 20th level, you may transform into a medium elemental at will, a large elemental twice per day, and a huge elemental (as elemental body iv) once per day. At the moment of your transformation, you may choose whether your slam and vortex deals bashing, fire or acid damage.

Essence of Life (Ex): At 20th level, your eldritch blood suffuses every inch of your body with limitless, immortal vitality. You do not age, and are immune to age-related effects. You gain DR 5/- and immunity to paralysis, poison and disease. Every time you take slashing, piercing or bashing damage, you gain fast healing 5 for a number of rounds equal to 1/2 your sorcerer level.

Lucky Bloodline

Some sorcerers are born from long, secretive lineages of studious wizards. Others happen by accidents of passion or inattention, as forces of good and evil, elemental fury and magical potence meet in mortal form. And you… you’re just that lucky.

Class Skill: Escape Artist.

Bonus Spells: true strike (3rd); blur (5th); fly (7th); remove curse (9th); major creation (11th); true seeing (13th); mage’s sword (15th); moment of prescience (17th); wish (19th).

Bonus Feats: Dodge, Extend Spell, Improved Counterspell, Improved Initiative, Leadership, Lightning Reflexes, Mobility.

Bloodline Arcana: Whenever you fail a saving throw, you gain a +1 luck bonus to that same save for a number of rounds equal to your Charisma modifier or until you succeed at a saving throw of that type.

Bloodline Powers: The uncommon luck that defines your existence can be shaped and channeled to serve you in more direct and controllable ways.

Beginner’s Luck (Ex): At 1st level, you know two additional 0-level spells. You learn one extra 0-level spell at 5th, 10th, 15th and 20th level, and your save DC on 0th-level spells increases by +1 at 7th and 14th level.

Skin Of Your Teeth (Ex): At 3rd level, you can add the result of 1d4 to any attack roll or saving throw once per day. This additional die increases to 1d6 at 8th level, 1d8 at 13th level, and 1d10 at 18th level.

Luck Thief (Sp): At 9th level, when a creature you have targeted with a harmful spell succeeds at a saving throw, you may use this ability to immediately force them to reroll and take the second result. If the second result is a failure, you gain a +2 luck bonus on saving throws and AC for a number of rounds equal to your Charisma modifier. This ability may be used once per day, plus one time per day per three levels after 9th.

Someone’s Looking Out For Me (Su): At 15th level, your luck helps you skirt the edges of death itself. Once per day, when you would otherwise be killed by hit point damage or massive damage, roll a d20 and add any luck bonuses on any of your saving throws. If the result is below a 10, you die as per normal; if the result is over a 10, you survive at -1 hit points and disabled, though stable and conscious.

A Charmed Life (Su): At 20th level, your unnatural luck has made it difficult for even gods and devils to destroy you. You are immune to magical aging effects, although you continue to age as normal. Once per day, you may reroll any attack roll, saving throw or skill check (including your someone’s looking out for me ability) and, if the second roll does not succeed, this ability is not expended and can be used on any other roll.

Scintillating Bloodline

Radiant, luminous, brilliant and bright – your ancestors have sought the secret of pure light, or have been touched in some way by its transcendent glow. Your whole body shines with an incandescence that’s impossible to truly dim.

Class Skill: Perception.

Bonus Spells: color spray (3rd); glitterdust (5th); daylight (7th); rainbow pattern (9th); mirage arcana (11th); chain lightning (13th); prismatic spray (15th); sunburst (17th); fiery body (19th).

Bonus Feats: Alertness, Arcane Blast, Dazing Spell, Dodge, Lightning Reflexes, Magical Aptitude, Skill Focus (perception), Spell Penetration.

Bloodline Arcana: You shine light like a torch. You may activate or suppress this ability at will. You also gain the dancing lights and flare cantrips as bonus spells known.

Bloodline Powers: Your body is like a lens, focusing the eternal light into a myriad of colors and forms to smite your foes.

Shimmerspray (Sp): At 1st level, you can emit a cone of crackling light from your hands as a standard action. This ability affects a 15-foot cone-shaped burst, and deals 1d6 points of electricity damage +1 per 2 sorcerer levels (minimum 1d4+1) to every creature in the area. A Reflex save halves this damage. The save DC is equal to 10 + 1/2 your sorcerer level + your Charisma modifier. You may use this ability a number of times per day equal to 3 + your Charisma modifier. If you run out of uses of this ability, you also lose access to your bloodline arcana, including bonus spells, until you rest and regain this power.

Light Body (Su): At 3rd level, you gain resistance to fire and electricity 5, and you are immune to the blinded condition. You may surround your body in shifting light and bright colors, gaining concealment (20% miss chance, as the blur spell) for a number of rounds per day equal to 1/2 your sorcerer level rounded down. At 15th level, your resistance to fire and electricity increases to 10, and at 20th level, you are immune to fire and electricity.

The Light That Burns (Sp): At 9th level, you can cause a creature to burn with painful radiance as a standard action. This ability affects a single creature within 60 ft. that you can see, who must succeed a Will saving throw or take 4d6 fire damage for a number of rounds equal to your Charisma modifier as they burst into sudden, dazzling radiance. All creatures within 10ft. of a creature affected by this ability must succeed on a Fortitude save or become blinded for the same duration + 2 rounds. The DC for both of these saves is 10 + 1/2 your sorcerer level + your Charisma modifier. The damage for this ability increases to 5d6 at 13th level and 6d6 at 17th level. At 9th level, you can use this ability once per day. At 15th level, you can use this ability twice per day. At 20th level, you can use this ability three times per day.

Not Of This World (Su): At 15th level, the light within your body rejects the crude touch of the earth. You gain a fly speed of 30 ft. with perfect maneuverability. You can suppress and reactivate this ability as a free action, and if active, you continue to hover in place even when unconscious.

Radiance Incarnate (Su): At 20th level, you are more a creature of intangible light than you are a living being. You do not age naturally, and you do not need to breathe. You can become incorporeal for a number of minutes per day equal to your sorcerer level.

Pathfinder Monster: the Covfefe

This enormous, faceless slug-like creature thrashes about, torn in every direction at once by its four writhing spines. Its fleshy body is pocked with flailing arms and mumbling, almost humanlike mouths.

Covfefe (CR 5)

XP 1,600

CE Large aberration
Init:+6 Senses: blindsense 60 ft.  Perception: +3

DEFENSE:
AC 18, touch 12, flat-footed 16 (+2 Dex, +6 natural); fortification (50%); all-around vision
hp 52 (6d8+25); regeneration 5 (fire, good, law)
Fort: +9, Ref: +6, Will: +10
Immune: cold, negative

OFFENSE:
Speed 30 ft., climb 30 ft.
Melee 3 flailing arms +8 (2d6+5 plus negative press)
Space 10ft., reach 10ft.
Special attacks: Negative press
Spell-like abilities (CL 4th, concentration +7)
At-will: ghost sound, ventriloquism, chill touch (DC 14)
2/day: hideous laughter (DC 15)
1/day: touch of idiocy (DC 15)

STATISTICS:
Str: 20, Dex: 14, Con: 20, Int: 4, Wis: 14, Cha:16
Base Atk +4, CMB +10, CMD 22 (can’t be tripped)
Feats: Improved Initiative, Multiattack, Weapon Focus (flailing arms)
Skills: Climb +14, Escape Artist +8, Perception +3
Languages: The covfefe can speak any language, but only maddening gibberish; it understands none of them.
Special Abilities:
Negative Press (Su): Creatures struck by a covfefe’s thrashing limbs suffer under a fragment of the crushing negativity that defines its existence. When a creature is damaged by a covfefe’s flailing arms, it must succeed at a DC 15 Fortitude or suffer as if compressed by a personally heightened field of cruel gravity: the creature’s speed is halved, cannot run or charge, and suffers a -6 penalty to Strength and Dexterity checks and attack rolls, as if exhausted. In addition, this ability heightens the effectiveness of necromantic spells cast upon the affected creature, causing 2d6 force damage if the creature suffers any negative energy damage from any source. This effect lasts until the affected creature takes any morale bonus, or until the affected creature takes 1 hour of complete rest.

Ecology:
Environment: any
Organization: solitary, pair, or cabinet (3-12)
Treasure: standard

These hideous monstrosities, writhing always in a powerful confusion and hatred for their own twisted bodies, are what results when transformation rituals go wrong. Whether intending to glorify themselves or transform favored servants into more powerful forms, when a wizard fails in their spellcasting, the creature may be torn apart and reforged as a hideous amalgam of lips and fingers that knows nothing but the agonizing shame of its own revolting body. Most covfefes are slain minutes after their twisted birth, but a few may escape into the countryside where they inflict suffering on every living thing they find as if in cruel justice for their own malformed existence. When they band together, it is only to inflict greater pain on a greater swath of unfortunate earth – a covfefe’s hatred of its own kind is only slightly less than its hatred of everything else.

In battle, a covfefe will charge ahead, heedless of the damage done to its body – and indeed, its twisted regeneration will heal any damage not caused by fire or the forces of pure goodness and law. A covfefe will strike at the first thing it sees, instinctively casting hideous laughter if it is too far away to crush, and wailing away at its opponent with an almost random variation of flailing limbs and malignant spell-like abilities. A covfefe is only truly dead when burnt to a cinder or exorcised by the forces of good; even so much as a vial of holy water poured upon the twitching corpse will be enough to extinguish its mutant malice, but few can stand its revolting presence enough to afford it even that small blessing.

(look at me, I’m topical!)