Wayward Sons: Love letters & Demonic possession

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Disclaimer: This post includes bad language and attitudes that really aren’t a representation of what we actually think. It only goes to show out we have bad taste.

As we grow more and more accustomed to this hack and how it works we manage to extend the game and bring in more interesting elements to the game.

This week I send two of my players a love letter. Now I am not sure I actually used them the right way but since this is after all our game I think the point was that they were successful. Or at least one was.

Due the first letter and the roll that followed one of the PCs got a prison tattoo. That was not too interesting. That taught me to be more considering when making the letters. Dull outcomes bring a little to the game.

The second letter was much more interesting. It bring out demonic possession and end up nearly killing the whole group.

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Demon Week: Seizan, Perverter of Truth Deck

Normally I wouldn’t put EDH decks on here, because, well, they are quite long lists and there’s a lot of art to it, so this is going to be more about how I make a deck than about Seizan himself.

My favorite demon in MtG and one of my favorite commanders, Seizan, Perverter of Truth.

This card just works on so many levels. Its a 6/5 for five mana and therefore very affordable. It also has a very good ability. People are greedy and therefore they won’t touch Seizan. So, it generally stays on board, although often the player on my left will just kill it after getting the benefit himself. Anyhow, let’s design a deck with him as the commander.

Having researched this somewhat, it appears many people do this wrong. They attempt to control their opponents hands with discard, but that’s not what you want. You don’t want to work against yourself. I guess there’s some sort of intuitive jump which makes it feel attractive, but just don’t do it. Its generally not a powerful strategy in EDH anyhow and Seizan just makes it worse.

So, how do we proceed? Well, what I do is basically four steps. This is the usual order, but there are times I go with a different approach and start with some other step instead.

1. Choose a commander. Well, this time this has been done already. My usual process of doing this is quite arbitrary. I like to try out a new commander quite often (and I have tried over forty in just over a year), but I also like to go back to old ones now that my collection of cards has more depth.

2. Go through cards with a lot of synergy with the commander and dismiss nonbos. Also add cards which support our strategy. In this case, I’m going with making attacking me seem unattractive. For this purpose, I’ll put in Dread, No Mercy, Grave Pact, Butcher of Malakir, Oblivion Stone, Kokusho, the Evening Star and Sudden Spoiling, although I don’t really advertise the last one, so its not as good in this regard.

Life gain is also nice in a Seizan deck, but I don’t like to use life gain just for that. Usually, the card needs to do something else too. Exsanguinate is often considered a staple, but I don’t. In this deck it definitely has a place. Sorin Markov is a card I’ve owned for a while now, but haven’t played yet. This is probably the deck for him. Sword of War and Peace is great in this regard. Also protects Seizan from many cards.

Punishing opponents for drawing cards is one more thing the deck likes to to. Underworld Dreams is one choice, as well as Psychosis Crawler. Temporal Extortion is probably better than usual, as the other players will have better places to invest their life.

3. Put some staples and roleplayers in. Who can say no to Damnation? In a black deck this generally means a suite of cards for tutoring, for sweeping the board, for spot removal, for ramp, for utility and so on. Also, grave hate package is important in our current meta. I was thinking Cremate (a very underrated card in my opinion), Withered Wretch, Nihil Spellbomb, Leyline of the Void and Vile Rebirth, but chose to change the last one into Crypt Incursion, which probably works better with Seizan despite higher casting cost.

This part also includes some generally good creatures, because you usually need some. This deck is lighter on creatures than most of my decks, but I did make room for the usual suspects.

4. Find some cards I’ve never used or haven’t used in a while and put them in the deck. Well, much of this was actually covered already, since I’ve never had some of the aforementioned cards in my deck before. Still, this feels like an important part of the process for me, since I like to learn new things. Finding ways to use these new cards is part of

First one to make it was Pontiff of Blight. The deck might not have enough creatures to make him truly effective, but he does work well with Seizan (and thus probably should have been in the second category.

Second came Tendrils of Corruption. This card should probably be in my decks quite often, but for some reason it hasn’t been. Ever. I do play a lot of monoblack, though, so maybe I should remember this card in the future. Also works great with Seizan as most players will have less life than usual.

Phthisis is a card that’s been floating close to my decks for a while, but has never quite made it. The suspend is probably great for creating stalls as most people won’t be willing to put anything into play when this is ticking down, waiting.

Xathrid Gorgon seems powerful, but for some reason not very popular.

So, the end result. The cmc is pretty high. The curve has a hole in the fifth column, but that’s not a problem, since I’ll often cast Seizan as soon as possible, taking that slot in the early game.

Sadly, only a couple of demons, horrors and clerics, so doesn’t really work thematically.

Demon Week: The Subtler Side of Demons / Shadows in Wraith: the Oblivion

Earlier this week, I wrote about demons in Magic: the Gathering. The problem with them: They lack subtlety. They are monsters that tear the world they inhabit apart. They will usually end the game in someone’s favor, but they aren’t necessarily interested in whose. They will follow your orders, but only if they are paid.

The real scary demons are not like that. I was reading Hellblazer: Bloodlines just yesterday. It includes a storyline called Royal Blood, (trying to avoid spoilers here) which is about a demon called Calibraxis possessing a man of note. The depictions of the nature of the possession are quite violent, but they happen in the head of the possessed man. The demon tears and sinks its claws deeper, but only “spiritually”. There’s an image of the demon laying on top of the man’s brain. That’s scary. That goes deep. We don’t want anything in our heads, where it can control us.

Another, not as scary, but interesting take, is the character of Mr. Nick in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus played by Tom Waits. He is more like bored than actually malevolent, making him mischevious instead of strictly evil. However, he has a long-term plan and will probably toy with his poor victim for the rest of eternity, giving him just enough line and reeling him back in.

Now, how to do this in an RPG? I believe Wraith: the Oblivion had the answer, of sorts.

In Wraith, each character had a Shadow. A Shadow is basically the dark side of his personality, but the Shadow is played by another player. Its always there, lurking about looking for weaknesses. Someone is always thinking about how the Shadow can gain influence over the good side of the character. It has its own personality, so there are different approaches to this. Leading the character into enough danger to rely on the help from the Shadow always helps.

Sadly, back when I had the opportunity to play Wraith, my gaming group wasn’t quite mature enough to do it. There were also religious problems with the idea (no, really, separating fact and fiction seems so hard for religious people), as the Shadows seemed quite demonic (for a reason), and one of the players was not a good player, as he was more interested in GMing instead (and wasn’t very good at that either).

Still, I’d love to try it out now that I have a better gaming group. Just a matter of finding the right time, which will never happen, as our schedules are already too full to keep our current games going. Life, sigh.

Anyway, the major idea of the Shadow is obviously putting much of the burden of running them on the players. The GM has enough to do as it is (although I tend to keep my own workload quite light), so running three to five major characters all the time would be a major distraction.

Maybe I’ll just insert the idea into one of our random RPGs.

Demon Week: Demonic Possession, Part 1

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Demons in RPGs are nothing new. They tend to be something like Aki discussed yesterday – big and scary. Rarely something else. It might have to do with same kind of prejudice as in the case of MtG. Or not. It actually does not make that big of a difference.

I do not pride myself as an expert of RPG lore. But I have played several games and read even more. So as a part of Demon Week I decide my angle to be demonic possession as it will feature heavily in the Wayward Sons hack.

My first encounter with demonic possessions was with the original Deadlands. My character died and returned as a Harrowed with a demon inside of him. It so was fascinating the play a character who had two different goals (and actual identities) that I was intrigued ever since.

Deadlands handled the thing quite nicely. Once you had a demon in you there was no escape. Except death. It was raiding you until it took total control of your character or your character faced the final death. This was the kind of doom and gloom I liked. Later supplements introduced Voodoo possession too (at least if my memory serves me right) but they did not feel that interesting to me.

Later on when Dark Heresy was published I was once again fascinated by its approach. The demonic possession in WH40K universe was introduced (to me at least) by the Inquisitor war game and Dark Heresy did a good job adapting the power of possession. I absolutely loved the random table for side-effects of possession and ended up using them in a game of WFRP I ran.

For all the rpgs I’ve read and played I’m yet to find an interesting representation of exorcism. I suppose it is somewhere to be found. But actually having missed something like that is an interesting point by itself. Sure, there are numerous magic spells and rituals to exorcism. But no such imaginative rules as those of possession spring to mind.

This is likely because of the specific nature of such an act. In most games the roles of the characters are definite and diverse. Having one character with a special kind of “mini-game” to exorcism just is not that important. Anybody could be possessed by an evil spirit but it seems to be more that a group of characters could/would be involved banishing it from its host.

For me this seems fair. Exorcism is not as important when considering the flow of the story as the actual possession. But it could be. I think that Dread could make an excellent game for exorcism. The characters would all be taking part in the ritual while the demon would be fighting against them. “A little Exorcist and Poltergeist for the evening” so to speak.

Image from: http://www.acliparthistory.com/church/cbr/The-Devil/R-20-58-39

Demon Week: History of Demon in MtG

What was the most sought after card in the early, early days of Magic? Black Lotus? Ancestral Recall? No. Who needs fast mana or extra cards if you have the raw power of Lord of the Pit?

Richard Garfield wanted examples of all major fantasy tropes in the game, this included demons. Demons had a good start. On top of the good, ol’ Lord, we had Demonic Hordes, Demonic Tutor and the ante cards, which had a great flavor of taking a risk for some short-term edge.

Obviously, since the cards aren’t very good and ante fell quickly out of favor, the initial interest didn’t last long and most of the cards have fallen into anonynimity, except for Demonic Tutor, which is still a staple in all formats where its legal.

There were demons in Antiquities, Legends and Ice Age, nothing really worth mentioning, like most of the creatures of this era, but then Wizards of the Coast just stopped doing them. Why?

Apparently, the thinking was that the game was nearing breaking through into mainstream and they were afraid of a possible backlash from religious organizations. After all, it happened to D&D when it was finding its mainstream footing about a decade earlier.

The thing is, people change and pop culture changes. In the late 90s, Buffy fought demons on TV regularly. Also, the boycotts… They never work. When the baptists decided to boycott Disney back in the day, Disney didn’t even bother acknowledging it, even though on paper, there were roughly 40 million baptists in the US at the time. So, while other creatures have been retroactively changed into demons from several sets, creatures with the type ‘demon’ weren’t printed between Ice Age (1995) and Onslaught (2002).

In Onslaught and Legions, they tested the waters with Grinning Demon and Havoc Demon. They had the hallmarks of the demons of old. They were big and powerful, but came with a drawback. However, compared to the original Lord, the drawbacks were minor.

Demons got their big break in Kamigawa, where they were worshipped by the ogres and released from their prison to destroy the world when everyone else was distracted by the Kami War. Their drawbacks ranged from very bad to manageable to great. In fact, my personal favorite, Seizan, Perverter of Truth, is from this set.

From there on, demons have become a fixture. They are now the marquee large creature of black and at least every core set includes one. Some recent blocks have included plenty. Innistrad’s gothic themes were a great place to insert several demons and Ravnica has its own demons, particularly in the Rakdos guild or cult, with their own demonic leader. Desecration Demon, Griselbrand and Sire of Insanity are seeing some constructed play.

Looking back, demons seem to be a great indicator on how certain aspects of Magic’s design have evolved. In the beginning, huge creatures with big drawbacks were the norm. If you wanted something good, you’d have to work for it or pay for it all the time. Then, over time, they have loosened. Now, you can get great creatures without having to sacrifice something or take unnecessary risks.

In a way, the game has lost something, but at the same time, the game has gained much more by making creatures more playable. No-one wants to feel stupid by playing something powerful and then losing because the opponent could exploit the drawback or something you played.

Now, even the demons often come with no drawbacks or they are mitigated. Shadowborn Demon from M14 will be satiated at some point. Abhorrent Overlord from Theros may come with a very similar drawback to Lord’s, but it brings with it its own fodder and instead of killing you, it will just go away. Some, like Desecration Demon have much more innovative, interactive and interesting drawbacks.

From a broader viewpoint, its interesting to think that just twenty years ago, there was a feeling that some people will think even the concept and an image of a demon in a game would somehow be dangerous. Granted, there are still such people, but now the publishers understand they’ll never reach these people anyway and those people will grasp onto anything as evidence of something satanic, so to satisfy them, Magic would have to get rid of magic, which just wouldn’t work.

Demons are here to stay. They are important shortcut. Call something demonic, and we know what we are talking about, although in Magic, they have their own unique attributes, being beings of pure black mana (or red, in some rare cases).

Bonus bit of trivia:

I don’t know if this is true, but according to PVDDR, a famous Brazilian player, the original Portuguese version of Lord of the Pit demanded sacrifices in its honor.