Saturday, August 15, 2015

Reskinning Monster of the Week for Divine Blood

Monster of the Week is a Powered by the Apocalypse game geared toward reproducing action horror and urban fantasy style stories such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, The Dresden Files, Anita Blake and several other such things besides. On the surface that feels like it should work perfectly for my Divine Blood setting.

At the very least, it should do well to represent campaigns that focus on both the dangerous parts of the world and the supernatural. Right?

Well, sort of.



There is a major issue in the nature of the playbooks that conflicts with the Divine Blood setting.

Here are some assumptions that exist in the Monster of the Week playbooks:

  • Most of the heroes are going to be human. 
    • This is fine as far as it goes. Humans have a vastly greater population than the supernaturals do. As such there are far more humans capable of handling a dangerous crisis than there are of any other species, including Gods and Demons.
  • Supernatural individuals are significantly more powerful than non-supernatural humans.
    • Now things start to break down. The average telekinetic in Divine Blood will never do anything more dangerous than grabbing a pen from across the room, most pyrokinetics won't do more than heat up their food for lunch and most werewolves wouldn't do much more with their wolf form than to play frisbee or go for a run. Having an inborn supernatural ability is roughly like being born especially intelligent or strong. It is not an "I win" button. Even most Gods and Demons are comparatively harmless civilians next to the average human cop or soldier.
  •  Supernaturals are inherently antagonistic toward normal humans.
    • With a few exceptions, the majority of surviving sentient species besides human look very much like humans. This includes Gods and Demons both of which are species that evolved before humans and altered themselves to look more human. This is because the most successful other races are ones that work with humanity rather than against it. In terms of species, the more rare races are the rhemora to humanity's shark. Gods and Demons have a number of advancements that make them able to compete with humans, even destroy them, but the downside is that would likely leave the planet unlivable for an extended period of time. Besides which, many Gods and Demons have human connections or even used to be human, so there's another reason they don't want to go that way.
  •  Supernaturals are inherently different from humanity.
    • In Divine Blood a soul is a soul is a soul. The base spirit of humans, Gods, Demons, sidhe and any other sentient being is the same. Most have the same general life-span, but even in the case of the Immortals, they have the same general concerns with regard to life.
That said, the main way to reskin Monster of the Week for Divine Blood is to simply reskin the playbooks and also to make heavy use of the Use Magic move everybody has access to. You might also refluff some moves to be explained by minor to major supernatural abilities.

The Divine Blood main page on this blog has a number of articles summarizing the nature of immortals, training vs talent, various psychic abilities, supernatural species, the supernatural population and what is bogus vs what is real; so for the fiction of the world you can go there. I'm going to focus on the MotW playbooks right now.

The Flake, The Mundane and The Snoop


In Monster of the Week, these are expected to be more or less normal humans that have stumbled upon the supernatural in some form or fashion. If you are playing Divine Blood, then these three playbooks represent civilians that have gotten wrapped up in the dangerous parts of the Divine Blood world.

As an example Mundane, consider Amaterasu Omikami. Yes, she's a Goddess. Yes, she's at least six million years old. Those wouldn't seem to be the sort of thing that you would consider a good match for a "Mundane" character. However, in the current timeline of the Divine Blood fiction, Amaterasu recently reincarnated (see the article on Gods and Demons for reincarnation stuff) and is only about twelve years into her most recent incarnation. This means that she has a the emotions and powers of a twelve-year old girl right now, and since it is an artificial bind not an especially powerful twelve year old psychic. At the current time in the setting, Amaterasu is very much just a little girl with some psychic quirks and knowledge that she's a goddess.

As such, the Mundane playbook as it exists is a perfect match to the concept of playing a 12-year old recently reincarnated goddess.

A less extreme example of a supernatural Mundane would be the lemurian swim team captain from the Demon Next Door: Day At The Fair scenario. She's a teenager who can breathe underwater due to gills and who gets rather angry if you talk to her about Lovecraft or mention Innsmouth. The worst fight she's been in as been the standard high school fist-fight. Probably with Clint, the character she's gotten in a fight with EVERY instance of Day at the Fair I've run (partially my fault).


The Flake and the Snoop could likewise represent characters that may or may not be supernatural but have the personalities best exemplified by those playbooks.

The Crooked, The Hard Case, and The Professional

Whereas the previous three playbooks mostly represented the average (well, not-so average) civilian. These three characters represent people much more used to dangerous situations. Their nature is such that they are not necessarily supernatural, but as with the above, they certainly can be.

For example, Jack O'Laintier, the Demon of Fear, might best be represented as a Crooked since he is a Faustian who makes it his business to cause criminal organizations to self-destruct by leading them along a garden path to a minefield. He has significant supernatural power, but relies mostly on his cunning and smooth talking to get the job done.

The Wronged


The Wronged is separated out due to his history with some loved one being killed or some similar tragedy. Given the nature of the world in Divine Blood, the perpetrators of that are as likely to be normal humans as they are to be supernatural. It is suggested therefore that the issue of the monster that wronged them be carefully considered. The easy answer is to have him target an evil organization like the Thule Society, the Faerie Courts, the Path of the Golden Dawn, the Disciples of the Evil Eye or the various cults of Zeus. However, if the character doesn't know much about the supernatural Community, he may very well assume that all X are evil. However, one should be aware of the dangers of playing what is quite literally a bigot. The characters are supposed to be the heroes after all. Though learning to get past that is good character development.

The Expert, The Initiate and The Spell-Slinger


These playbooks stand out in that they are focused on characters who study supernatural things as their main career. And not just any supernatural study. A basic magician or shaper could be represented by the Mundane, the Flake or the Snoop. No, these characters focus on the use of the supernatural in dangerous situations. All three make great potential for representing the Nirvanite Eyes of Ra, the Yomian Shadows, the soldiers of the Sorcerer Families, the Heralds that serve as the solicitors of Nirvana, the shard explorers of Socrates Group and the freelance psychics of Psyche.

The Monstrous


Okay, so this one is most definitely all about the supernatural, right? Seemingly, yes, but a case can be made for using this to represent a very highly skilled human soldier. Consider Damir Milos, the human sixteen year old upright pilot who has spent the majority of his life on one battlefield or another and is mostly employed by his current company because they felt to leave him on his own was to let a ticking time bomb out into the public. He could be given a Pure Drive of either Battle or Duty. Claws of the Beast could represent martial training. His high Weird score would represent the nearly a decade of instinct drawn from living mostly in war-time as an active combatant. Unholy Strength, Preternatural Speed and Unquenchable Vitality could all represent a combination of his training and battle-instinct. Something Borrowed could give him something from a more "normal" playbook.

The Monstrous might also present a lot of move options for representing specialties for other characters who are playing a supernatural character using a normally non-supernatural playbook. Ghosts and entities will also likely best be represented by the Monstrous.

The Spooky


The Spooky can represent four particular character types. The first is an akira, a derogatory slang term that at its most polite simply means a psychic who has no training and no idea how to control themselves and at its least polite means a psychic who thinks that super-powers make them superior and not have to train. The power level of the Spooky means this isn't your average akira, however, this person was born with some serious power and desperately needs to get herself under control before she kills herself.

The second type of character a Spooky can represent is an Avatar or Apprentice. That being a magus who has so often called upon the same God or Demon that their mind has basically adapted to considering that Immortal a welcome guest, meaning that God or Demon can pretty much freely contact you telepathically. This also means that you are frequently take on the price of either White or Black Magic, thus giving the Immortal in question either tons of favors with which they can possibly override your free will (Yomi/Black Magic) or endless access to your surface thoughts and perceptions beyond just entering your mindscape and talking to you. (Nirvana/White Magic). Even in the case that your connected Immortal is a decent sort who sees you as an equal, which is the most common occurrence, they might still end up having troubles that they want your help in solving. And if your character was incautious about whose spells you repeatedly used, you might find yourself acting as a tool of Balor or Zeus or some other Immortal on the list of very old psychopaths.

The third type of character is someone who has a very close relationship with either a ghost (spirit of the dead) or an entity (a spirit that has not yet been born to a physical form and thus has no clue about what this thing called mortality is...sheesh, even Gods and Demons die when you stab them enough times).  Ghosts and entities lack a physical body and thus do not produce life-force themselves. They are limited to manipulating residual life-force in order to do anything. Thus they are more capable of doing things when there are living people about. If some person lets them possess their body, then they can spend most of the time riding in the back seat and tap their ride's life-force in order to do things that interest them or at the request of their host.

A Divine Blood death-seer can also be represented by the Spooky with the downsides being the repeated ghosts that show up either asking for aid or just to have someone to talk to. Note, most death-seers do not immediately assume a ghost needs to be put to rest. There are several ghosts that take up a guardianship of an area that are just fine and not causing problems. Death-seers only focus on convincing ghosts to cross over when those ghosts look lost or else are causing problems.

The Changeling


Another good representation of an akira, The Changeling in particular could represent a number of non-human species that are born looking human and become inhuman around puberty (succubi, trolls, sidhe, gorgons...so on).  Note, however that the Changeling's heritage is most likely going to be based on improper training rather than actually having an alien outlook. Remember, Divine Blood focuses on how people are the same rather than on how they are different. While it is rare for these to end up outside the Community, accidents occur and sometimes they're lost to the system and end up in a human family that isn't prepared for teaching them about how to control themselves.

The Exile


The exile is the man or woman out of time. This is certainly doable. Though it hasn't been dealt with in the fiction much, time travel IS a thing. In addition, stasis fields and lost dimensional shards are also a thing (though neither of those have showed up much yet either). Likewise, there is a large population of humans, seraphim, succubi, dvergr and trolls whose ancestors fled Earth around the First or Second Century BC and have since developed a society in exile which is a little bit more medieval in nature. They have been exposed to modern American culture via Socrates Group, but they are still slightly fish out of water sometimes.

The Chosen


Now we start getting into some dicey areas. The Chosen revolves around the idea of a prophecy. Prophets and Oracles both exist in Divine Blood. Oracles can glimpse the past and future, often deliberately, but every time they see the future, they see the future that WOULD have happened if they hadn't decided to look at the future. As soon as they looked, that future changed. Prophets, on the other hand, subconsciously edit the future timeline to match their expectations (bad and good). Prophets to date have never been aware of what they were before they died and their subconscious twistings can't do much more than cause small physical things to change (such as editing in a dropped clue from another timeline that the criminal had remembered to clean up in this one) and cause new thoughts to enter the minds around them (but not firmly enough to force the decision). The Chosen's destiny could very well be the result of self-fulfilling beliefs or they could, indeed, be a prophet and that's why fate seems to bend for them: they are making it happen just by living.

The Divine 


Actually, the Divine makes a pretty reasonable way to represent either Gods or Demons, both of whom followed similar evolutionary paths. However, there are some things to remember. Neither Gods nor Demons are truly divine. They can theoretically live forever and have near reality bending powers, but they are still terrestrial beings. A Boss from Beyond is likely another Demon or God and could be a good guy, a bad guy or even just an average person. They have the Angel Wings ability (which Gods and Demons using other playbooks should consider picking up eventually) which can represent their respective teleportational abilities. However, they are unlikely to care much about prophecies and most won't go to Earth on a "Crusade against evil" though they do have their fanatics. There is certainly not a mystical apocalypse on the way in the world (there IS a geopolitical apocalypse building up though, and that includes the Gods and Demons home shards). Note Gods and Demons usually look very human with only the facial marks pointing them out.

The Summoned


The biggest problem here is the Apocalypse section. There are at least a couple of non-humans that have clearly non-human features such as gorgons, gargoyles, chiang shih, ravens and trolls. As usual, most of those aren't anywhere near bad-asses, but some bad-asses could certainly exist. For that matter, you might be able to take a cue from the Monstrous and create a hideously scarred spec-ops soldier as the Summoned for the Freakish move. But the apocalypse track should represent something other than a standard prophesied end of the world. You might even use it to represent the characters knowledge of some developing crisis. For example, perhaps a gargoyle warrior knows that there is a plot to form a coup on the leaders of his homeland in the extradimensional shards around Earth. He's exiled, so he can't just warn his people...not without getting a lot of negative attention. In this case, that Apocalypse bit might represent the developing conspiracy that he is watching helplessly get ready to take over his nation while he is stuck on Earth watching two idiots try to get through an obstacle course.

What do characters do in Divine Blood?

Someone brought up this question in connection to this post. By which they meant what is the premise of the game campaign. The thing is, the Divine Blood setting is designed to allow for more than one potential campaign style.

The current supplement in the works focuses on slice of life game play and is not appropriate for the use of the Monster of the Week rules at all since you're unlikely to need most of the moves in that game when your goal is get through a week at work without freaking out over the annoying new boss.

Another campaign style possible in Divine Blood is the story of a group of soldiers involved in one of the warzones in the setting. This could be Eastern Europe, where the US has been mired in East Germany and Czechoslovakia for the last ten years. Or it could be the Burma controlled East India where India's national military has refused outside aid ever since the US, NAA and CRCMP helped them stall Burma's advance in the mid-60s. Or it could be in the largely uncontrolled inner reaches of the former Soviet Union which is plagued by various warlords. Regardless, this also does is not appropriate to using MotW's rules set.

However, there are campaign styles available in Divine Blood that fit Monster of the Week's general rules very well. And that's the operation of small teams of troubleshooters tasked with taking on trouble spots or small groups of independent investigators looking into various things.

While most of the supernaturals in Divine Blood are harmless, you still have a significant number of evil threats. In addition, non-supernatural humans can also be used as "Monsters" in this setting

That said, the campaign premises within Divine Blood that most fit the MotW mold are as follows:

Psyche


Most of the psychics that get jobs through Psyche get boring stuff like setting up some feng shui site or removing a simple natural curse. Occasionally, however, some situation goes beyond the level of a normal civilian psychic and some investigative and combat specialists are called in. This could be a beast (an animal that mutated to have psychic abilities but not sentience) which can be an ecological disaster as well as a threat to locals. Or it could be a witch, which is the general term used to refer to psychics who mis-use their powers. Finally it could be a Van Helsing, which is a person who takes to hunting supernaturals just because they are supernatural.

As such, in a Psyche campaign the characters would be getting butterfly messages leading them to investigate attacks or strange happenings that have proven beyond the limits of other freelancers. Or they might be part of the secretarial pool and be consistent agents of Psyche rather than temp/freelancers. In which case they would be handling not only dangerous stuff but potentially politically sensitive stuff as while, like preventing the early reveal that supernatural people exist to the general public. (an eventual real is planned)

As this is focusing on MotW all such missions will have a fight of some sort. This means there will always be an antagonist that is combat capable. This could range from a Rock of Ages (an organized group of Van Helsings) cell to a Thule Society sorcerer, a Petran witch or a supernaturally empowered Snake. At the upward levels you could deal with some of the "Threats" of the world such as Undead, Devourers, Titans and Nameless Things.

Sorcerer Family Troubleshooters


Perhaps this would be best if one of the players was running the Initiate. The Sorcerer Families consider themselves nations unto themselves and maintain a very militant and warlike attitude. Some support Psyche and are aiming for a greater amount of peace but others want to retain their autonomy and also reject the idea of returning to the public eye.

A sorcerer family campaign done with MotW would focus less on the politics of the families (that sort of campaign would better fit Urban Shadows) and more on the team sent to deal with a particular trouble spot. The enemies are similar to those dealt with by Psyche, but in general, Family teams operate more like military spec-ops while Psyche operates more as either bounty hunter teams (Freelancers) or federal task forces (Psyche Secretarial Pool).

There may be some specific focuses. For example, a team based around the Siskind family would spend a lot of their time hunting witches and bringing down psychics and supernaturals who misuse their gifts. This means most of their enemies would be intelligent criminals operating secretly and require them to identify a witch out of a population of other supernaturals, many of whom might have the necessary powers to be the witch but are completely innocent.

God or Demon Teams


This would focus on teams from either Yomi or Nirvana tasked with investigating things and dealing with problems. Destroying or sealing Nameless Things, investigating and identifying rogue Gods and Demons and other such tasks would be common to the Shadows and Rakshasha (Yomi) or the Eyes of Ra and Einjerhar (Nirvana).  If you want to extend the definition of monster you can even include the sort of missions where a team of Gods or Demons is sent to look into and monitor a potential natural disaster in order to prevent it from having global impact. In this case, the investigative moves would be used to identify the coming disaster while combat could be repurposed toward dealing with things like lava bombs or else trying to do enough collateral damage to create a sort of dam to hold back the tsunami waters.

Again, this would not focus on Yomi-Nirvana politics or espionage but would rather focus on dealing with external threats.

Occult Investigations


As not every supernatural is part of either the Community or connected to one of the Immortal nations, there is plenty of room for collected groups of individuals that have discovered the supernatural and go around researching it. In this case, most of the bystanders are going to be human or else will hide their supernatural nature from the team while the team would mostly consist of normal humans as well as akira (slang term for psychics and non-humans born outside the community and thus lacking the proper training).  The main villains will likely be witches, beasts and assorted other such things. One side effect of the recent population boom among supernaturals is that a lot of dangerous supernaturals slip through the cracks and go unnoticed by Psyche, the Gods, the Demons or any other such group.  However, any amateur group of monster hunters is likely to catch the attention of Psyche eventually, so this sort of campaign is likely to morph into a Psyche campaign.

Government Team


A lot of the governments of the free world generally use hire freelancers through Psyche, but they almost all maintain their own teams as well. These tend to be less well trained or educated in the nature of the supernatural than Pysche teams, but it does present a more reliable and quicker solution than to depend on hiring independents through the middle man of Psyche. Sometimes, after all, there are some sensitive issues that a government wants to keep to themselves. Most of these will be made up of non-supernaturals and human psychics however, but the CRCMP (Cultural Republic of Chinese and Mongolian Peoples) is aware of nonhumans and their Youxia intelligence group does employ a handful.

Their probable enemies include those mentioned in the past three campaign styles but have the additional potential enemy in the form of other governments' agents and teams. 

Avalon Team


Avalon and Psyche are allied organizations at their highest levels of leadership, something even the lower levels are unaware of. As such it is rare for Avalon to use one of their own mercenary units to deal with potentially supernatural incidences. However, they do maintain lists of mercenaries in the new to lend to Psyche when that organization needs extra firepower of a non-psychic nature.

This sort of campaign would be a lot like the Psyche campaign, but have more "normal" methods of battle with maybe one or two psychics the Avalon team has been assigned to support. In addition, it is likely that their enemies and monsters will often be drawn from other secret societies like the Path of the Golden Dawn or the Thule Society rather than as independent witches or random beasts.

Socrates Group Exploration Team


Somewhat difficult because the Socrates Group has not been dealt with much in the fiction yet. In fact, they've only really been mentioned. However, Socrates Group is heavily focused on exploring the vast array of extradimensional shards within Earth's cosmology. The concept is heavily inspired by Stargate SG-1 and the sort of missions would be similar save they would be going to extradimensional settlements rather than alternate planets. The Socrates Group would be dealing with the Thule Society, who also explore the cosmology; the Gargoyle nations, an isolationist group of non-humans; the Faerie Courts, the traditionalist and supremacist sidhe from long ago; as well as other things from the deeper parts of the cosmology. They are allied with some populations who escaped to the shards almost two thousand years ago and are the Earth group most connected with succubi, seraphim, trolls and dvergr.

The sort of investigations used here would be in moving to a new shard and exploring it to see if it is safe to put a settlement or outpost on; protecting allied shard settlements from encroachment by the Thule or raids from deeper cosmology beasties; and running tactical ops against such enemies.


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That's some of my suggestions for reskinning MotW to Divine Blood. More information on the fiction of the world can be found in the articles on the Divine Blood page linked below. There are other playbooks, of course, but the suggestions I outlined here should guide that game as well.

Divine Blood Page

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