Great at everything but dancing

八面六臂
hachi.men.ro-.ppi

Literally: eight – face – six – elbow

Alternately: Active in a variety of areas, usually with incredible energy and results. One person doing the work of several. As productive as if having eight heads and six arms.

Notes: One variant uses three (三, san) faces instead of eight. The 三面 version seems to be the original, based on depictions of Asura, but it’s used less frequently in contemporary Japanese. While the two are more or less interchangeable, if you contrast them, the 八面 version can imply a broader (or unlimited) range of activity and accomplishment – cf. the use of the number eight to mean “all directions.”

The Asura statue at Kohfukuji Temple (興福寺) in Nara

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Method & Moil

Method & Moil – a Lasers & Feelings hack

(I found L&F a while back, read through it once, thought it was cool, and then let it lapse as a PDF stored somewhere on my computer for several months. Then just recently I had a thought about “mad scientists whose technology is powered by their belief in it.” While that aspect has shrunk to a mere passing comment, it formed the seed of this reskin – or “hack,” as the kids say these days – of the system.
I suspect that the text may be difficult to parse, or to translate into coherent play, for people not already familiar with RPGs… any feedback that can help me clean it up and make it more presentable/usable would be appreciated!)

In a science-fantasy world of mecha, electromagnetic ghosts, and Lovecraftian gods, you are a team of experimenters and tinkerers whose craft is powered by “mad science” – by your obsessive devotion to a particular pseudo-scientific Ultimate Theory. Your mentor’s private laboratory was recently annihilated and your mentor is missing, presumed vaporized. Will you investigate, rebuild, or move on? Will you save the nearby town, rule it, or destroy it? And what will you do about the ominous dreams that everyone’s been having?

Players: Create characters

  1. Choose a style for your character: bombastic, flustered, gonzo, haunted, insatiable, inscrutable, meticulous, etc.
  2. Choose a field for your character: biology, chemistry, electromagnetics, optics, parapsychology, zoology, etc.
  3. Choose a number from 2 to 5. A high number means you’re better at method (precision, control, relative order, small-scale effects or subjects). A low number means you’re better at moil (power, intensity, relative chaos, maximized effects and massive subjects).
  4. Give your character a cool mad-science name, and any other identifying quirks or characteristics you have in mind.

Stuff you have: Sets of civilian and work clothes, enough supplies to whip up an invention or two, a usually-reliable prototype of your favorite gadget, and a token of your private superstition. You have a key to the workshop’s common areas and knowledge of their on-site security measures. You also have a suite that contains your personal workroom or lab, materials storage, library, and a tiny monastic cell for sleeping in.

Player goal: Have fun with crazy pulp-science hijinks!

Character goal: Choose one or create your own: Become team leader, satiate your desires, destroy your enemies, remake the world, discover one of Nature’s ultimate secrets, prove yourself to someone, or just keep being awesome (you have nothing to prove).

Players: Create the workshop

 As a group, pick two strengths for your workplace: Loyal staff, good defenses/security, durable, mobile, hidden, modular, or self-sufficient (has just enough food, materials, and energy for the team).

Also pick one problem: resource hog (needs constant resupply), unstable (accidents or fights tend to cause other problems), bad reputation (your mentor made a lot of enemies and your team isn’t well-liked or trusted), weirdness magnet (even when you didn’t do anything, coincidences and the supernatural seem drawn to your location), mind of its own (the workshop’s equipment, staff, and other systems don’t always do what you want).

Rolling the dice

〇 When you do something risky, roll 1d6 to find out how it goes. Add +1d if you’re prepared and +1d if you’re an expert, plus any from aid.

◎ (Aid: If you want to help someone else’s roll, say how you try to help and make one of your own. If you succeed, give them +1d.)

●If using method (precision), you want to roll under your number.

●If using moil (power), you want to roll over your number.

Then count your successes:

0 – It goes wrong. The GM says how things get worse somehow.

1 – You barely manage. The GM inflicts a complication, harm, or cost.

2 – You do it well. Not the most dramatic outcome, but good job!

3+ – Critical success! The GM says how things go better than planned.

– If you roll your number exactly, you have a Moment of Clarity and gain special insight. Ask the GM a question for each die that matched your number, and they’ll answer you honestly.


GM: Create a mad-science adventure

Roll and/or choose on the tables below:

The main threat…

  1. A rival team of mad scientists… or cultists
  2. Your former mentor, somehow changed… or the secret police
  3. An angry mob… or horrible monsters
  4. An approaching natural disaster
  5. Spirits from beyond the veil… or aliens from outer space
  6. An actual god that you were never meant to behold

…wants to

  1. Investigate or fiddle with
  2. Destroy or corrupt
  3. Protect or empower
  4. Steal or copy
  5. Control or conquer
  6. Bond with or consume

…the

  1. Townsfolk
  2. Resource your community or workshop relies on
  3. Complex you live and work in
  4. Secret project your mentor was working on
  5. Secret that you had all been keeping from your mentor
  6. Whole planet

…which will…

  1. Unleash a plague
  2. Start a war
  3. Scour the mind/soul out of mortal flesh
  4. Erase existence as we know it
  5. Be super annoying
  6. Fix everything (thus wrecking the status quo)

GM: Run the game

 Describe a fictional world and then confront it with a threat. Play to find out what happens when the players encounter that world and that threat. Introduce the main threat by showing clues about its nature, goals, and tactics. Introduce minor threats or problems as appropriate on the way to confronting the main one. Before a threat does something to the characters, show signs of what’s about to happen, and ask them what they do. Use the rest of the game world to set the stakes, provide a contrast with a threat’s effects, and vary the action.

When possible, say “Yes, but…” rather than “No.” Show the players the costs, the risks, and the rewards of their proposed actions. Ask questions and build on the answers; invite the players to help you build the world that their characters are adventuring in.

Call for a roll when the situation is uncertain. Don’t plan outcomes or solutions; present a situation and see what the players do in response. Use failures to push the action forward. The situation always changes after a roll, for better or worse (or both). When in doubt, play to the character’s chosen style and aim for Awesome.


Inspirations:

This hack created by @confanity

For those interested, I’ve also produced a version of the above text in PDF form; feel free to download it, play with it, share it with friends, and let me know what you think!  ↓

Method & Moil

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I met a traveller from an antique land

朝顔の花一時
(Asagao no hana hitotoki; “The morning glory flower, a single moment”)

Definition:

Something’s peak or prime only lasts for a short time. Decline and entropy are all too easy. Like the morning glory flower that blooms at dawn and has already withered by midday, so is all glory fleeting, all fame transient, all things doomed. Nothing lasts, so appreciate things while they’re there.

Breakdown:

This noun phrase begins in the middle with the noun 花 (hana), “flower.” The associative particle の (no) specifies the flowers belonging to the 朝顔 (asagao), literally “morning-face,” but actually referring to the Japanese morning glory plant. What follows seems to be a comment on this unmarked topic: number-noun 一時 (hitotoki, not “ichiji”), “one moment of time.”

Notes:

Some related phrases use 槿花 (kinka), the “Korean rose” or “rose of Sharon,” whose flowers last only a single day. (Note: this is a hibiscus rather than an actual rose.)

This saying comes from the Wen Xuan (文選, Japanese Monzen), an early 6th Century CE Chinese anthology of poetry and literature, via an Edo-era zuihitsu text known as the 駿台雑話 (Sundai zatsuwa).

Example sentence:

「生まれてからの半年は可愛さ極まり無くて朝顔の花一時という…のに、大変すぎてただただ眠りたい!」

(“Umarete kara no hantoshi wa kawaisa kiwamari nakute asagao no hana hitotoki to iu… no ni, taihen sugite tada tada nemuritai!”)

[“They say that the half-year after birth is a beautiful fleeting moment of unlimited cuteness… but it’s too much; I just want to sleep!”]

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Zen and the art of shining a footlight

脚下照顧
kya-.kka.shou.ko

Literally: leg – below – illuminate – look back

Alternately: Make time to look within. More literally, “make sure to look carefully under your own feet.” 照顧 is a Zen Buddhist term for consideration, reflection, introspection. This is a warning that instead of criticizing or critiquing others, it’s more important to look back on your own words and deeds.

Notes: Replacing 脚 with homophone and close relative 却, “instead,” is of course an error. It is possible, albeit uncommon, to flip the order and instead use 照顧脚下.

This phrase is attributed to a Kamakura-era Buddhist priest known as 孤峰覚明 (Kohou Kakumyou)

A poem by Fujimoto Kouhou (藤本幸邦) extolling the existential calm that comes of neatly lining up your footwear when you take it off

(はきものをそろえると心もそろう
心がそろうとはきものもそろう
ぬぐときにそろえておくと
はくときに
心が
みだ
れない
だれかが
みだしておいたら
だまってそろえておいてあげよう
そうすればきっと
世界中の人の心もそろうでしょう)

(Hakimono wo soroeru to kokoro mo sorou
Kokoro ga sorou to hakimono mo sorou
Nugu toki ni soroete oku to
haku toki ni
kokoro ga
mida-
-renai
Dare ka ga
midashite oitara
damatte soroete oite ageyou
Sou sureba kitto
sekaijuu no hito no kokoro mo sorou deshou)

(“If you line up your shoes, your heart will become orderly as well
If your heart is in order, your shoes will be too
If you make them neat when you take them off
then when you put them on
your heart
won’t be
messed up
If someone leaves them in a mess
quietly line them up for that person
If you do that, then surely
the hearts of everyone in the world will also be in good order”)

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Magic Monday – God-eaters – The Sun-Rider

The Sun-Rider
(The Hero; White Bull Rider)

Description: Legend has it that the sun, an iridescent bull elephant of monstrous size, once roamed across the heavens at whim. This wreaked havoc on the land and seas below. The other gods of the sky attempted to channel its motions into a series of paddocks, but it always broke free and wandered as it pleased, scorching some of the world below into barren deserts and icing others over with endless winter.

In the end, a mortal hero ascended to the sky. After many adventures she confronted the beast, rode it, and tamed it.The gods “rewarded” her with immortality… and a commission to ride through the sky, directing the Sun into an orderly path, for as long as the world lasted. Against the blazing many-hued brilliance of the Sun’s hide, she is a small dark spot.

Worshipers: Yes. The sun is worshiped across cultures in a variety of guises and through a variety of practices. The above legend is well-known, and there are significant religious practices revering the rider, either on her own merits as a hero to ascended to demigod status, or as an intermediary for pleas to the sun, as a sort of saint of the solar godhead.

Servitors: No. Many of the other inhabitants of the sky are on good terms with the hero, and most will act to prevent any attempts at causing trouble, which protects her indirectly, but their relationships are collegial rather than hierarchical.

Confrontation: The White Bull is massive and blinding. Its tusks burn to the touch and can pierce every known material if applied forcefully. Normal weapons can’t even dent its hide… but if the White Bull is wounded, any blood that comes out is a blast of vaporizing nuclear plasma. Unless directed by the hero, the Bull will blissfully ignore its surroundings unless hurt, at which point it will lash out violently until all perceived threats are gone, devastating the local area as if a nuclear weapon had detonated.

The hero is a skilled rider who can climb to any point of the Sun’s body and cling there one-handed. She carries a bow that fires comets – arrows of infinite range that freeze their targets on a hit. She will not hesitate to use the Sun to ride down any enemy that comes near. In extreme cases, she may switch to bare-handed combat; if given time to prepare, she’ll wet her hands in the Bull’s tears, which annoys him but renders her skin invulnerable for a time.

Aspect: Plasma, power, heat, heroism. Those present at the hero’s defeat boost each ability by 1. She is considered to have been “consumed” by anyone who takes any of her possessions after her defeat, even if they never touch her flesh.

Powers – Tier 1: None.

Powers – Tier 2: Boost each ability by another d4 points and become unaging and immortal. Any character who embraces the power taken from the hero also embraces her mission, and is bound inextricably to the Sun. They may not go more than “area” distance from it, and even that, not for very long. The gods of the sky recommend that the character begins studying the White Bull’s ways and practicing a skill set similar to what the hero used in her duties.

Powers – Tier 3: None.

Powers – Other: None.

Example Checks: None. Either you embrace the hero’s essence and become bound to the Sun – or you don’t, and remain essentially unchanged.

Notes: This demigod is a trap of sorts for god-eaters. To slay the sun’s rider is to either take her place (and probably become an NPC), or doom the human world to chaos and devastation in the face of climate change as the Sun leaves its orderly progression and wanders aimlessly across the heavens. Slaying the Sun itself would be a much more dramatic undertaking and have much more dramatic effects, so we’ll leave that for another day.

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はは は

子を持って知る親の恩
(Ko wo motte shiru oya no on;
“The kindness of a parent, which you realize when you have a child”)

Definition:

Raising kids is hard. But as with most difficult tasks, most people don’t realize the exact amount of time and effort that it takes until they’ve tried it themselves. As a result, most people only realize the full depth of the debt of gratitude they owe their own parents upon becoming parents themselves.

Breakdown:

We begin at the end, with the noun 恩 (on), “kindness.” Associative particle の (no) marks it as being the kindness of 親 (oya), “parent(s).” The whole kotowaza is a noun phrase, further modified by a verb phrase ending in 知る (shiru), “to know.” The circumstances of this knowing are explicated by a nested verb phrase ending in the verb 持つ (motsu), “to hold,” or by extension, “to have,” appearing in conjunctive form. The particle を (wo) marks the noun 子 (ko), “child,” as the direct object of motsu. And there you have it!

Notes:

Variants replace 持つ⇒持って with 育つ⇒育てて (sodatsusodatete), rework the message into a double negative, specify mother and/or father, or make other changes.

This saying reportedly comes to us from Chinese Zen biography anthology The Transmission of the Lamp (景徳傳燈録, Keitokudentouroku) via 14th-Century CE Japanese essay collection Tsuredzuregusa (徒然草).

Example sentence:

孝衛は散々歩き回って竟に赤ん坊を寝かせてから、子を持って知る親の恩を深く知ったような気分になって、自分の両親に祝いがてらプレゼントを送ろうと決心した。

(“Takamori wa sanzan arukimawatte tsui ni akambou wo nekasete kara, ko wo motte shiru oya no on wo fukaku shitta you na kibun ni natte, jibun no ryoushin ni iwai gatera purezento wo okurou to kesshin shita.”)

[“Having finally put the baby to sleep after a great deal of walking around, Takamori felt that he deeply understood the debt of gratitude owed to one’s parents that only a parent understands. He decided to use the celebration as an excuse to send them a present.”]

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Not a photographic memory, but a typeset one

博覧強記
haku.ran.kyou.ki

Literally: acclaimed – see – strong – scribe

Alternately: Widely-read and remembering much. Having a vast supply of knowledge, thanks to extensive study and good recall.

Notes: This compound comes to us from the Han shi waizhuan (韓詩外伝, Japanese Kanshi gaiden), which we’ve seen a couple times before.

Myriad synonymous phrases and variations exist, including previous entry 博学多才. The compound may also be written with 強 replaced by alternate character form 彊, without any change in meaning or pronunciation.

HakuRanKyouKiHikari

Not pictured: the remembering

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