Saturday 24 September 2016

The Angels of Chickentown

Two things inspired this post, the newtown of Thamesmead and John Cooper Clarke’s poem ‘Chickentown’.

I spent a lot of time in Thamesmead in my youth. It is a massive housing estate built on land reclaimed from the Thames marshes in the late 60’s and lies between a couple of major prisons and a huge sewage treatment works. It is full of classic 60’s and 70’s prefab concrete civic architecture which has, as usual, aged badly. It is regularly used as a backdrop for films and TV who want that dystopian urban nightmare vibe, most notably ‘A Clockwork Orange’, and it was rough as a bear’s arse, grim, grimy and graffitoed with pubs built like concrete bunkers, though I had some good times there.

One of the jollier bits of Thamesmead

Used to drink here. Wouldn't touch this place with one these days.

'A Clockwork Orange' was almost a documentary about the place.

The poem ‘Chickentown’ is about Manchester’s less salubrious bits but it could have easily been written about Thamesmead, Broadwater Farm, Alamein Gardens or any one of a score of grotty estates in and around London or hundreds up and down the UK.

The fucking cops are fucking keen
To fucking keep it fucking clean
The fucking chief's a fucking swine
Who fucking draws a fucking line
At fucking fun and fucking games
The fucking kids he fucking blames
Are nowhere to be fucking found
Anywhere in chicken town

The fucking scene is fucking sad
The fucking news is fucking bad
The fucking weed is fucking turf
The fucking speed is fucking Surf
The fucking folks are fucking daft
Don't make me fucking laugh
It fucking hurts to look around
Everywhere in chicken town

The fucking train is fucking late
You fucking wait you fucking wait
You're fucking lost and fucking found
Stuck in fucking chicken town
The fucking view is fucking vile
For fucking miles and fucking miles
The fucking babies fucking cry
The fucking flowers fucking die
The fucking food is fucking muck
The fucking drains are fucking fucked
The colour scheme is fucking brown
Evidently chicken town

The fucking pubs are fucking dull
The fucking clubs are fucking full
Of fucking girls and fucking guys
With fucking murder in their eyes
A fucking bloke is fucking stabbed
Waiting for a fucking cab
You fucking stay at fucking home
The fucking neighbours fucking moan
Keep the fucking racket down
This is fucking chicken town

The fucking pies are fucking old
The fucking chips are fucking cold
The fucking beer is fucking flat
The fucking flats have fucking rats
The fucking clocks are fucking wrong
The fucking days are fucking long
It fucking gets you fucking down
Evidently chicken town

The fucking train is fucking late
You fucking wait you fucking wait
You're fucking lost and fucking found
Stuck in fucking chicken town

The great Johnny Clarke doing it on stage...

And now the breadcrumb and mucilage slathered mechanically recovered meat...

The Angels of Chickentown

Earth is still a going concern in 2316, still home to 40% of the Known Space’s population of Homo sapiens, though it has taken some hard knocks. Global warming has led to some areas being flooded beyond recall and economic upheaval has stomped once relatively prosperous areas into the mud.

Thamesmead, now known as Chickentown to all and sundry, is one of them. From a swamp it arose and to swamp it has returned, the lower floors of the bulk of its concrete tower blocks and houses are now well underwater with half-assed attempts to bridge the gaps between the upper floors of the tottering remains to keep it as a viable place to dump 24th century London’s poor.

The one industry it has left is growing synthetic chicken in a huge factory on the edge of what passes for dry land. Curtains of semi-permeable cellophane capillary systems are seeded with chicken muscle cells and hung in pulsating rows to grow into slabs of cheap protein. These are carved up, covered in starch and preservative and frozen for the cheapest of the cheap budget supermarkets.

For the last few decades it has provided next to no employment, the wretched human staff replaced by the even more wretched biobots. These are loosely strung together skeletons of vat-grown rhinoceros bone reinforced with teflon and steel and covered in chicken muscle. They have pumps instead of hearts, vinyl sheaths instead of skin and their pimple of chicken brain is bypassed by a computer connected to the rest of the body by insulated wire that zaps the muscles into convulsions with electric shocks.

Few people go into the Green Farms Ltd concrete shed these days, it is almost entirely self contained tier of hell of its own. A few biotechies come over from Beckton on a ferry to inject organic sludge reclaimed from Crossness Sewage works into their feeding sphincters, nail any loose bones back into place and bugger off. The biobots load their frozen product into unmanned drone barges which pootle up the Thames to drop them off for the driverless trucks that take them to the unmanned automarts for unemployed humans to buy on their government issued ration cards.

The stinking canals and sumps of Chickentown are overlooked by winding monorails that pass between the ruins in thick odour-proof plastic tubes, ferrying the marginally better off from the outer ring of dormitory towns to the centre of London and back. The viable flats are surrounded by a layer of squats and a further layer of fuck-knows what in the ‘Sacrifice Zone’, that part left to the mercy of the widening river as sea levels rose.

The defeated hordes of unemployed shuffle through life as best they can unable to save enough for a coveted ticket offworld to a colony where people can feel as though they matter. There are ‘sponsorships’ - actually indentured labour contracts - for those with ‘marketable skills’, but lackadaisical education policy has made these skills hard to acquire. The National Lotteries dishing out tickets at random are the best most can get though the pubs of Chickentown haven't seen a leaving party in years.

Street gangs are rife, but even in 24th century England guns are still rare and no more than one in fifty yobs has one, though they can be rented by the hour if you know the wrong people. The local police buzz around in helicopters, targets for futile fusillades of bricks but usually little else. They raid drug labs and hydroponic cannabis plantations once in a while, but none of the major players of the drug business would be seen dead in Chickentown and also the police mostly can’t be arsed.

Most of these gangs are boringly conventional scrotes with names like ‘The Burgess Block Butcher Boys’ and ‘The SE28 3PH Warriors’ admitting their pathetically limited scope and ambition. They knife kids from round the corner for being from round the corner. Their turf may be a few tumbledown terraces on the shore of an open sewer but the fact they are willing to spill blood to ‘defend’ it gives it a value, in their eyes at least.

So far, so conventional; those economically surplus to requirements just playing at the wannabe rebel/outlaw role their society has laid for them through the media. The more serious rebels are the Angels, a subculture that has rejected the mud, blood and concrete in favour of the ineffable and numinous, though even they are just unconsciously aping the city slickers up in London in their own demented fashion.

Dressed in pure white trainers, the palest of eggshell blue bondage trousers and ruffled calico shirts they float a few inches off the ground with recycled low power grav-moped engines in backpacks decorated with ragged wings. Their hair is bleached an almost ultra-violet white and capped with aluminium halos, their ears plugged with earbeads playing ethereal choral works, their eyes covered in bug-like white goggles playing their own private augmented reality channel that transforms their shattered concrete eyries in the Sacrifice Zone into beautiful palazzi, the drowned shopping precincts into picturesque loggias and the graffiti into Mannerist frescoes.

Their beatific smiles betray their constant state of rapture, electrodes implanted into their brains to induce a pleasant hum of low-voltage euphoria. They are the elect, those on the edge of transhuman transcendence in their own badly-educated opinion, but all that technology costs money and they have no qualms about using all the usual gangster tricks on the preterite to maintain their makeshift heaven on Earth.

They favour the dart-gun in street battles and muggings, nothing so crude and in-yer-face as the double bladed stanley knives, weaponised hedge-trimmers and machetes of the lesser gangs, injecting their opponents with massive doses of DMT-related instant hallucinogens, the Angel's electronic accessories transforming the frothing panicked screams of their victims into the happy cries of children.

Adventure Hooks and Chickentown Events

  • The fucking oddbod Angels have been grinning even wider than usual of late, they mutter disjointedly about something called ‘The Rapture’ to anyone daft enough to listen as they float above the streets. They have been secretly hoarding some potent hallucinogen up in their tower block out in the river and they are plotting to get it into Green Farms product. People are going to go apeshit all over London.
  • Green Farms have been losing hundred of crates of chicken nuggets to gang kids in canoes for years and the police have just been treating it as a bit of lark. They have persuaded the Home Office to let them deploy their own law-enforcement, terrifying biobots tricked out with stab-proof skins and the skulls, muscles and nasal acuity of giant Alsatian dogs. They are sniffing through the streets for pheromone codes from the missing boxes and busting down doors and don’t seem that responsive to their handlers.
  • A gang of Angels broke into the transit tube and ambushed a commuter train, robbing everyone aboard and treating them to a not bad version of Handel’s Messiah while they did so. This is taking the effin’ piss, MPs have been written to, the Home Secretary has been questioned in Parliament and the Daily Mail (still in existence as a chip implant  that conveys their own brand of ‘news’ to your VR goggles and adrenaline to the limbic system so as to induce the appropriate outrage) demands action! But the police, usually up for a bit of headbreaking, to be going softly softly. Rumour has it that the Home Secs son is an Angel, or even that the Bishop of Southwark is holding them off as he sees a glimmer of potential salvation in the garb of these hoodlums, even if their actions don’t match. The Mail wants the TRUTH! Investigate the story, but don’t be too scared of making shit up. A Mail reporter has already gone missing looking into this though, see if you can find him before the bastards wire his brain up to the national grid or marinade him in LSD while you are at it.
  • The Goitre Squad have had it up to here with those high and mighty Angels. They want that augmented reality system hacking into and they especially want the location of all the Angels. They have got their mitts on a couple of shotguns and they are taking them down, though EMP weapons to overload their euphoria trodes would also come in handy.
  • Archangel Michael was finally done in by the Black Street Boot Boys, his subordinates Raphaella and Gabriel are duking it out and they are quite literally crucifying each other’s followers. 
  • Astra-Zeneca-Glaxo-Beecham-Alexion, the sole remaining pharmaceutical corporation in England, wants to talk to the Angels. They have some experimental drugs they are working on for the MoD, and the Angels have a habit of shooting such into people, howzabout collaborating on a cheap and violent clinical trial under field conditions?

Tuesday 20 September 2016

The New Men

I have been re-reading 'Light' by M John Harrison (fantastic book, highly recommend it) and I am stealing his sad and grotesque 'New Men' for my Known Space Traveller setting.

Origins of the New Men

Over the course of the 21st century gene splicing in humans became a possibility. It mostly failed or had relatively minor effects (as explained here) and attempts at 'positive' genetech were banned across most of Earth, the side effects were just too cruel.

But the extra-terrestrial colonies were a bit of a free for all – the corporate states set up on asteroids within the solar system in the 22nd century made their own rules and, after they were destroyed in the Great Tax War, in systems throughout what would become the core sectors.

Known Space became aware of the New Men in the mid-23rd century when a vessel named 'Please Remove All Packaging' turned up on Captain Morgan's World and disgorged a horde of gangling red-haired, blue-eyed, clueless wierdos who immediately hit the bars, drank all the rum and coke on the planet and threw up in the gutter.

No one knows for sure who made them. Genetic analysis suggests they were engineered to adapt to some low-g, highly polluted environment and interviews with anthropologists suggest they had based their culture on intercepted TV signals from Earth and the main colony worlds. They had a high tendency towards naïve gullibility about advertising and low quality news broadcasts, a trait they have not lost, and are vulnerable to drug addiction, partly due to genetics and partly due to the disappointment of being in a civilisation where nothing ever quite matches the marketing blurb.

It is postulated that they were cloned – genetic variability amongst them is very low – to be the workforce of some hidden dystopian industrial concern and their traits were to make for easy management. Clues from 'Remove All Packaging' are non-existent. The colonial government of Captain Morgan's World tried to take possession of the ship to cover the New Men's bar tab, but the crew resisted, flew off and tried to shoot up the colony from orbit. In the ensuing space battle and pursuit the vessel was lost in the atmosphere of a gas giant.

The New Men's favourite muppet.

The New Men today

Seventy years on the New Men are present on many worlds throughout Known Space. They like highly developed worlds and are uncomfortable and nearly helpless in frontier situations where they have to show a modicum of initiative to survive. They tend to live in dense Kowloon-like rookeries often taking over old industrial plant and warehouses. Their population has mushroomed, the original few hundred have become tens of thousands in just two generations. Their birthrate is high but conspiracy theorists allege that the original batch was just 'test marketing', further boatloads have been sneaked into Known Space as illegal immigrants from their mysterious homeworld or cloned en masse by dubious government or corporations.

A few have the mental wherewithal to make a moderate success of business, more hang about in the lower echelons of organised crime, the majority have the lowest category of jobs that have yet to be successfully automated or no job at all. In some colonies discrimination against them is high, and there are campaigns to have them classified as a variety of anthropoid ape. This is justified by the fact that they are sufficiently genetically distinct from standard humans that standard human-New Man matings almost always result in genetic disabilities; technically they are a semi-species.

But it is their mental and cultural make-up that makes them really stand out, they have a weird cargo-cult mentality that if they ape the trappings of success with the latest fashions and latest tech (which they can almost never afford) they will genuinely become the attractive successful people they see on the adverts. They are so prone to believing propaganda they have bought into all the lurid conspiracy theories others have made up about them and added more than a few of their own. They even have a small religion based on their search for and reclamation of their homeworld, which in their minds of course is an amalgam of all the perfect worlds depicted on the adverts.

But they have developed a certain solidarity and take the hard knocks dished out by the rest of humanity on their weak chins. They are persistent, mostly hard working given the chance, don't ask for much out of life (which is fortunate as they don't get much) and are mostly happy with their lot. A few corporations are taking advantage of this fact and have many New Man employees (though next to none in management).

New Man characters

  • Strength -1, Endurance +1d3, Intelligence -2, Education -2, Social Standing 1d6; in addition they are limited to Athletics-1 skill die to poor lifestyle and peculiarities in their muscle structure, but they resist radiation, disease and poisoning at an additional +2 on any rolls, and any attempt to use a social skill against them will have +2 to success due to their general cluelessness.
  • Roll for a further flaw/strength (d6):
      1 – Media addiction. Cannot get through the day without the nirvana that comes from several hours of cheap trashy TV, algorithm generated pop and lowest common denominator 'news' outlets. The cleverer ones say they are watching 'ironically'.
      2 – Low cunning. Have managed to imbibe enough criminal culture and have suffered enough hard knocks that they have a sixth sense about when their lives are at risk. +1 to any Streetwise rolls, only +1 bonus to baffling them with social skills and + 1 initiative when it comes to running away from ambushes.
      3 – Loyalty. They have a boss who has their best interests at heart (some hope). Attempts to persuade them into betrayal are at -2. Still bloody fools about everything else though.
      4 – Drug addiction. Everything from alcohol to being a wirehead, and including the high tech vice of tanking (complete submersion in a full-sensorium CPRG played in sensory deprivation tanks under life support). -1d3 Endurance, -1 Strength, -1 Dexterity.
      5 – Emergency metabolism. Suffer fewer penalties from lack of food and water and exposure to cold temperatures; effectively +1 to Survival rolls, though they hate the outdoors.
    • 6 – Agoraphobia. Needs to stay indoors away from the sky and wide open spaces. May get by on the streets at night if they are very crowded and busy. Tend to live in the most crowded and junk-filled conditions possible in a kind of nest. OK with space though, looking at it through a spaceship window is too abstract for it to be real, though they wig out completely if they put on a vacc suit and actually go out into it.
  • Have a -1 DM to enlist in the following careers: Agent: Intelligence, Corporate, Citizen: Corporate, Entertainer: All, Marines: All, Scholar: All, Scouts: Courier.
  • DM -2 to enlist as Citizen: Colonist, Drifter: Barbarian, Merchant: Free Trader, Navy:Flight, Nobility:All, Scouts: Survey, Exploration.
  • Get a +1 to enlist as a Rogue: Thief, Enforcer, +2 to enlist as a Citizen: Worker.

Adventure Hooks

  • New Man drug-dealer Vernon Artery has pissed off mafioso Tony 'Legs' Macarthur for the last time. The useless twit has gone to ground in the 'Goon Box' rookery, a vast collection of cargo boxes and derelict cargo-vessels welded to the side of the orbital up-port. They all look the same to Macarthur's regular enforcers, but they ought to be easily persuaded to give him up.
  • There is hope for the New Men! Or at least there is a bit of a glimmer in the fact that they have been found by medical researchers to have a higher than usual requirement for dietary Selenium. Give them supplements and they might be a little less gormless. A control group are being given the stuff and yep, they do seem to changing a bit... but is it because they are gullible enough to believe that this is the answer to all their problems they are emulating being assertive, decisive and thoughtful, a placebo effect? Or are they (as some claim) secretly the master race and just needed to fix this one flaw in their metabolism to take over? Will it trigger heretofore unnoticed genetic switches and change them even more thoroughly, after all some other nuts claim they are a form of bioweapon designed to infiltrate humanity before destroying us.
  • Music promoter Jax 'the Jaxx' Jaxson (Dave to his mates), wants New Man musicians. They just love algorithm pop, they feel it in their very bones, their souls. They could, with the right training, actually write it, maybe better than the computers can. Get out there into NewManTown guys! Who is hip amongst them? Who is happening? Who ain't brain dead and only capable of whistling fast food chain jingles?
  • The colony of Gerisomov-Urcaria has deported all its New Men, a right-wing nut president's simple solution to public order issues. They aren't being total bastards about it, they have bought land on Saint Anne so the New Men can set up a colony of their own far away from 'normal' folks. The New Men don't do well in the countryside though, and Saint Anne has some issues with racism of its own. Will the poor boobs survive? Or will their own leader, Ned Hepatic, who seems to be more than a bit of a fascist nut himself, be able to weld them into the united 'human hive' all-conquering army he saw in his favourite episode of 'Space Trekkers'? And they certainly seem to have brought a lot of guns and cocaine seed, maybe they ain't as daft as they look.

Saturday 17 September 2016

Yet another friggin' set of Sorcery rules!

In the RQ2 game I am currently running a PC wants to have a play with sorcery, and I want a classic mad genius sorcerer NPC to cause some villainy here and there.

But how to do sorcery in RQ2? Transplanting rules from later editions seems like an obvious choice, but the 3rd ed rules were overly complicated and while the RQ6 rules worked fine in the context of their rules for folk magic and theistic magic, they are a poorer fit with RQ2's take on battle magic and rune magic. They give too much bang for your magic point bucks and are too unreliable while battle magic and rune spells almost always work all the time. 

Just turning sorcery into another set of runespells was a simple option, but a boring one. Trying to transplant DCC's wonderfully bonkers magic system was another option, but the randomness of the outcome doesn't really fit what Gloranthan sorcery is supposed to be about.

So I started noodling with a kind of souped up battle-magic, and grabbing ideas from here and there and (as usual for me) it all got a bit long winded and probably more complicated than it needs to be...

I have no idea if any of the stuff in this document HERE is going to work in play, but we're set to give it a go next play session.

Sorcerers have pretty cool hats
(by David Michael Wright)

Tuesday 13 September 2016

Jakaleel the Witch revisited

So I am running a Chaosium RQ2 game where one of the PCs wants to be a follower of Jakaleel the Witch. I like RQ2 for nostalgic reasons, and prefer RQ6, but it has been pootling along pretty well so far. (I may eventually port the campaign over to the new revamped Runequest that is supposedly more or less RQ2 compatible, but we'll see how that goes when I get a look at the final version.)

In the meantime I need an RQ2 Jakaleel cult to be going on with. I have a Legend (MRQII) version here:

There are rules on shamans in the RQ2 rulebook, but Cults of Prax takes the shaman role and plugs it into the cult of Daka Fal, with rune spells. So this new version of Jakaleel kind of follows the Daka Fal model.

It also turned out rather long, so I made it into a Google doc rather than a colossal blog post.

Link to it is HERE.