Friday 22 June 2018

Kneel Before the Apocalypse Dragons!

The Apocalypse Dragons!

Five are they.

Ninhursag, Clathrate Dragon. It is of Earth, of Poison, of Secrets.
Atrahasis, Deluvial Dragon. It is of Cold, of Ice, of Stasis.
Ereshkigal, Singularity Dragon. It is of Mass, of Gravity, of Despair.
Shamash, Bolide Dragon. It is of Heat, of Fire, of Rage.
Mardūk, Gamma Burst Dragon. It is of Light, of Electricity, of Power.

Each is the size of mountains.
Each has upon its eyeless face a Rune.
They have tried, in their own ways, to prevent the emergence of Shub-Niggurath.
Each attempt has caused an extinction event.
Each attempt has failed.

The Beast in the Core of the Earth is still here.

Why Worship Such Atrocities?

Why indeed? These Apocalypse Dragons care not for man. They care not for life itself. 
Their only goal, the only goal that matters, is to prevent Shub-Niggurath from cracking the world like an egg and spreading its star-seed to infest other planets.
Terrestrial life is nothing to them. Sacrificing the earth to save the universe is a akin to us sacrificing an ant to save a city.
They do not speak. They do not care. They live and think on timescales too vast for us to comprehend, and far too vast for them to comprehend the short non-events of human lives.

So why, then? Why worship them?

Dragon powers! 
Those who obey the whims of a Dragon gain access to potent abilities. 
Claws, breath, scales, wings, Rune control, a whole host of fantastical abilities.

And the price? Merely abide by the Observances that you must obey or avoid to gain favour, and avoid breaking Taboos.

Are these things the dragon actually wants from its followers? Or are they merely a shallow surface reading of the echoes of the thoughts of a creature far too powerful and ancient to comprehend, justified post-facto by desperate adherents clinging to a foolish hope that their Dragon will save them from the end of the world?

Either way, it seems to work.

How to Worship Such Atrocities.

These rules are basically cribbed and slightly adjusted from Perdition.
If you want a bunch of rad demon lords to worship instead of dragons, check it out!

In brief:
Your Bond to a dragon is a number between 1 and 12.
Each Bond level grants an ability, but applies a cumulative 5% penalty to earned exp.
New adherents start at Bond 2.
Maintaining your bond with a Dragon requires you to avoid breaking its Taboos.
Improving your bond with a Dragon requires you to abide by its Observances.

Initially bonding yourself to a Dragon is remarkably simple.
All you need to do is kneel before an Apocalypse Dragon, or be baptised with its Rune by someone who is already Bonded to the Dragon.
Strengthening your Bond is where it gets interesting.

Here's an example of the Taboos and Observances of one of the Dragons - Ninhursag.

Taboos must not be broken. Break a Taboo and you lose 1 Bond level.
So if you're at Bond 4 and break a taboo by letting someone cast Cure Disease on your friend, you drop down to Bond 3.

Observances are important for when you attempt to increase your Bond level with a Dragon.
You want to collect the positive modifiers while avoiding the negative modifiers.
Whenever you trigger an Observance, mark it.
You can attempt to improve your Bond level once per session.

Improving your Bond:
- Either kneel before your Dragon or listen to a sermon from a someone who has a higher Bond Level than you.
Roll 2d6 and apply any modifiers from your Observances.
- If you roll over your current Bond Level, it increases by 1.
- Whether you succeed or fail your Observances reset, erase all marks.

Ninhursag's bond abilities

The abilities follow the track above for all Dragons, ie. you always get Eyes at Bond 3 and Wings at Bond 9. What the actual effects of those are differ by Dragon though.

The abilities remain unknown until someone unlocks them. I'll reveal the abilities in subsequent posts about the Dragons, but to illustrate, here's what my players have seen so far.
At the moment our current highest Bond character is POWERLAD.
He's at Bond 10 with Ninhursag so has unlocked the following abilities:

click to expand

You'll notice that at Bond 5 you have to choose one of the Dragon's Aspects.
These are based on Rune combinations. That's all over here if you're interested, but not directly relevant. All you need to know is that you can choose to worship the Dragon Undivided or one of its four derivative Aspects.

In this case, POWERLAD chose to worship the Aspect of Size, granting him a bunch of size-related abilities.
Coupled with his potent Muscle Wizard abilities, he's a real superhero!

It's possible to worship multiple dragons at once but it's hard to maintain since you've got to juggle a bunch of different and often mutually contradictory Taboos and Observances.
It's technically possible though!


This is part worldbuilding, part faction play, part optional sub-quest, and part alternate leveling system.

Alternate Leveling

Characters in my campaign peak at the soft cap of Level 7.
Getting there is hard enough, the work of maybe a year of play, and after that exp requirements are so vast that they're practically unattainable.

This means alternate methods of gaining power and abilities are welcome. This is one result, a means of gaining cool new powers and abilities that isn't tied to class or level.
The players quickly grasped that optimal thing to do is to get to a high level then get into a dragon cult as a sort of prestige class thing. Hence why the Level 7 Muscle Wizard POWERLAD is the main Drakencultist in the group.
Since you're probably not going to level up anyway the exp penalty isn't such a big deal, and since you're not going to level up anyway you might as well go hard into Bonds!


It's kinda cool to have an optional extra thing you can be doing that doesn't disrupt the party's goals.
Sure, you might be incentivised by Taboos or Observances to do certain things or act in a certain way, but you're not trying to persuade your friends to come with you on some random sidequest that's got nothing to do with their actual goals.

It does make things interesting though.
There was a time when POWERLAD's player was frantically telling someone "don't come near me with that fucking healing!" so they didn't break their taboo against healing unnaturally. That was great.

Faction Play

Factions are a great way to drive player action, and since you've got to go back to the Dragon or one of its Drakencultists to level up your Bond it means you've got to deal with that faction a bunch.

If you piss off everyone in the cult, the only way you can strengthen your Bond is to fight or sneak your way to the Dragon itself. Dragon don't care about petty human squabbles.

Plus, since there are 5 different Aspects of each dragon that means there are going to be at least 5 sub-cults in each Drakencult, and that's ripe for faction play too!
We've just come off a month or so of gameplay involving internecine strife within Ninhursag's Drakencult, it went great. POWERLAD is a high priest now and everything.


Is there a better way to get my players in contact with the campaign lore around Apocalypse Dragons?
Dragon powers! Who could resist!
Now there's a fair amount of theorising around what the Dragons are, what they do, and how one might be exploited to juuuust about stop the end of the world without them kicking on to destroy the world in a whole other way.

Power Level

There's one more thing tied up in this - the power level of the abilities.
You might notice in that POWERLAD ability sheet thing further up the page that these abilities are actually real fucking strong. +4 Strength at will? Breath weapon deals your HP as damage?? Bond 10 lets you turn into an elemental dragon??? What the fuck?

This is a symptom of me letting go of that "low level play" dial as we get into the Apocalypse.
The world's totally fucked and there's a ton of stuff that's too big to be solved by stabbing it with sharp sticks, even dragon-powered sharp sticks. Might as well kick it into high gear!