Original SA post
Let's talk a bit about Southern Gothic, shall we?
The Southern Gothic genre is a spinoff of existing Gothic literature, focusing its unwavering eye on the post-Civil War South. While it sometimes features supernatural elements, the key component of the genre is far more importantly the broken and often contradictory nature of Southern society. The idealistic caricatures of the well-mannered Southern gentleman and the lilting-voiced Southern belle are starkly contrasted by a history of slavery, racism, and poverty. An outward cordiality often hides bitter resentment or skeletons in the closet. Even the landscape itself seems to join in the game: the crumbling facades of old plantation manors, the simultaneous beauty and deadliness of the bayou, the glamorous revelry of the tourist quarters of New Orleans compared to the oft-ignored squalor of much of its residential areas. And as someone who has lived her entire life in the Deep South, it's definitely hard not to see a lot of shades of the real world in more than a few elements of the Southern Gothic genre.
Now what the hell does any of this have to do with the FATAL and Friends thread? The answer to that is a little something called Hoodoo Blues.
Hoodoo Blues is a roleplaying game created by Vajra Enterprises, a company whose other settings include such light fare as Tibet during the Chinese occupation of the 1950s, Manhattan in a cyberpunk future where the poor have to go to drastic measures just to survive while the rich grow fat and decadent in virtual reality-addicted gated communities, and an urban fantasy Los Angeles where you more or less play as Cthulhu mythos cultists. Like other roleplaying games from the company, it uses the Organic Rule Components (ORC) system, an in-house d20-based system.
It also happens to be a surprisingly true-to-form Southern Gothic experience with a lot of well-researched Southern folklore and mythology, which is impressive given that the authors are white suburban Oregonites. The supernatural faces of Hoodoo Blues aren't wizards, vampires, ghouls, and goblin; instead, they're rootworkers, boo hags, h'aints, and kowi anukasha. The players themselves, rather than being heroic paragons of virtue and righteousness, are deeply flawed folks who are trying to wrestle with the sins of their past and their present. And then there's the enemies, who aren't just beasts and spirits, but also rival masters of conjure, the darker elements of human nature, and the vices of temptation in their myriad forms.
While it probably won't be as long a journey as Exodus or as insane of one as GURPS Technomancer, I've been wanting to do Hoodoo Blues for a while, so I'm glad to finally be taking that opportunity.
Original SA post
Note: this book has its few art pieces mainly cluttered in specific points rather than spread out. So to mitigate the potential of using only text formatting to differentiate portions, I've decided to stick some disparate artwork here and there where there's none to be found in the book proper, even if it doesn't necessarily fully fit what's being discussed at the moment.
Author's Notes posted:
This game deals with subjects like race and discrimination which, if handled insensitively, might cause offence to some. We, the authors, would hate to have you, the reader, lose a friend over this game.
We are not experts in how not to offend. There is nobody in the world who knows what to do and say so as not to offend anyone. For instance, some players might be offended if you use the word “nigger” even in a historically appropriate context. Others might be offended if you avoid using the word when historically appropriate, feeling that you are sterilizing history or treating them as fragile.
The important thing is not that you don’t offend, but that you let it be known that you are making an effort not to offend. One good way to do this is to tell your players (you can tell all your players this, you don’t have to single out a few) that they should let you know if you use terms or explore themes that they don’t like.
Know your players' boundaries before you get down to business: a solid practice.
The introduction is pretty brief and consists of an elevator pitch-level discussion of Southern Gothic themes and Southern supernatural folklore, a couple of disclaimers, and a brief note on racial terminology in the south. While some of the specifics of that last one might be argued about, such as ranking "cracker" as an insult on the same level as "negro" in modern discussion, it's still nonetheless nice to see an attempt at inclusivity through laying down language rules early on in a supernatural roleplaying game book from 2010.
Chapter 1: Character Creation
Step One: Character Concept
The fundamentals: What's your character's name, race, and gender, do they have any family or lovers, what do they look like, what religious beliefs do they hold, and what are their views on major events in Southern history, that sort of thing. A bit or a less standard question is also posed with "Why Ageless?". This question comes up because all player characters in Hoodoo Blues are immortal (in the "cannot die of old age" meaning, not the "cannot die at all" one, to clarify) through some manner of supernatural boon. Some ageless are created unwillingly, but most of them have become what they are through their own power. We'll get more information on them in a little.
Step Two: Musical Tastes
Or, to judge one by one's
This is basically an emotional shorthand system. You pick two musical styles that are meant to reflect a generalized view of your character's own personality. Have some specific examples to get a gist of what's being done here better than I could probably try to describe.
Musical Tastes posted:
Classical Music- Some of the greatest things in life are subtle and sophisticated, the result of years of study and discipline.
Folk Ballads- No matter the country or the era, the stories are always the same: joy and tragedy, love found and love lost. No matter how many times the story is told it never gets boring.
Nashville Country- That old-timey stuff is great, but anything can be made better with some sophistication, some polish and some dressing up for extra pizzazz.
Outlaw Country- The person in the black hat may not be as beloved and may not come to a happy ending, but his or her life is a hell of a lot more interesting.
For an example in action, let's say we have a character who chooses Blues and Jazz. Blues reflects as a hard and often painful life, while jazz presents a character that lives a frantic life of wine, women, and song. Combining the two presents a character who has had an unpleasant and rocky life, but drowns it out through clubbing and various hedonistic indulgences. It's a simple but interesting little idea.
Step Three: Attributes
Like I said when introducing this game, it uses the ORC system, the in-house d20-based system. It's resolution is based all around the familiar method of d20 roll + modifier of some sort = result that either does or doesn't pass a specific threshold of success. While it is d20-based, however, ORC is not the d20
. This means that we won't be seeing the six standby ability scores, Armor Class, or any of the sort of things you'd be familiar with through Dungeons and Dragons, d20 Modern, and Pathfinder. Attributes here are what are present instead of ability scores and several other features such as hit dice and attack bonuses. There are eight primary attributes, each with several sub-attributes. A sub-attribute grants a +3 bonus or -3 penalty to a specific type of roll related to its parent attribute. You get a pool of eighty points to put into your total attributes (minimum score of 1, maximum of 20) and positive sub-attributes, while negative sub-attributes can add extra to this pool. The specific standard attributes are as follows.
Covers most of what you'd see from Dexterity in a d20 system game. Sub-attributes are Good/Poor Balance (how you are either good or bad at keeping your balance), Good/Poor Precision (manipulating small objects), Good/Poor Climbing (self-explanatory), and Good/Poor Prowling (how sneaky you are).
Your ability to perceive details both in and around you. Sub-attributes are Good/Poor Introspection (self-awareness), Good/Poor People Sense (notice what others are doing at the moment), Good/Poor Back Watching (noticing things behind you), and Good/Poor Detail Sense (observing fine and easily missed details).
The art of acting and persuasion. It also happens to have the highest number of sub-attributes, with Good/Poor Self-Confidence (affects Charm rolls to present as self-confident), Friendly/Unfriendly (affects Charm rolls to present as likeable), Good/Poor Seduction (self-explanatory), Good/Poor Actor (same), Good/Poor Children (alters all Charm rolls dealing with children), Good/Poor with Animals (same, but with animals), Good/Poor with Authorities (same again), Good/Poor With Plain Folk (and again), and Good/Poor With Outcasts (again).
Your general stamina and immune system. Sub-Attributes are Good/Poor With Heat, Good/Poor With Cold, Good/Poor at Contracting Diseases, Good/Poor at Fighting off Diseases, and Good/Poor Lung Capacity, which I think are all pretty self-explanatory.
Your mental speed, memory, and skill at creative concepts and abstract thought. Sub-attributes are Quick/Slow Thinker (affects rolls specifically tied to your mental speed), Good/Poor Memory (self-explanatory), and Good/Poor Skepticism (affects your ability to discern truth from fiction, be it supernatural affects such as illusions or natural things like hoaxes and forgeries). Also, it's three letter abbreviation is INL rather than INT, and this bothers me greatly for some reason.
How fast you move and jump, as well as a modifier for how much damage you do with kick attacks. Sub-attributes are the self-explanatory Good/Poor Jumping, Good/Poor Kicking, Good/Poor Long Distance Running, and Good/Poor Sprinting.
Specifically, upper body strength. It affects your lifting and grippling abilities as well as modifying damage from force-driven melee weapons such as clubs and your punches. Sub-attributes are Good/Poor Back (affects lifting), Good/Poor Hands (affects grappling and gripping), Good/Poor Bulk (affects tackles and shoves), and Good/Poor Punching (you can figure out what this is).
Your emotional and psychological strength, as well as how well you deal with pain and debilitating affects that aren't disease or poison. This is an extremely important skill because it affects almost all Conjure (the catch-all term for supernatural powers). Sub-attributes are Good/Poor with Addiction (resisting drug cravings), Good/Poor With Drug Effects (what comes after the craving has failed), Weak/Strong Stomach (how well you can avoid vomiting), Good/Poor With Distracting Pain (how well you can deal with lingering pain), Good/Poor With Shocking Pain (how well you can deal with sudden and brief pain), Good/Poor Temper (how good you are at holding in your anger), and Good/Poor Sense of Self (affects any Willpower vs. Willpower roll).
Your character also has health attributes, which you have twelve points to use for and must have a score of 1 to 6. Body reflects blunt trauma, Blood is damage to vital organs, and Incapacity to fighting beyond even mortal wounds. When you're taking damage, losing all your Body means you start taking Blood damage, and losing all your Blood means you start taking Incapacity damage. After you lose all of your Incapacity, you're in the realm we like to call "pretty fucked up": you're unconscious and have a number of rounds equal to your Incapacity score plus your Endurance score to get medical attention. If you don't, you're dead. Note that firearms and bladed weapons completely ignore Body damage and go immediately to Blood damage, and any blunt force trauma that depletes your entire Body points then starts dealing double damage to your Blood points on any subsequent attacks.
Step Four: Character Class
In spite of the name, there are no levels in Hoodoo Blues, and your "character class" is simply a template of what type of Ageless you are. There are six different classes of Ageless, each with specific advantages, disadvantages, and certain skills that cost less or more than the average amount of point buy to get ranks in. The big uniting theme of the Ageless is that they are all people who dance in the shades of gray rather than black and white.
In spite of the prevalence of Christianity in the South, Southern folklore usually paints the Devil as a foe who is often outfoxed by human tricksters rather than an indomitable evil. He's easiest to get a hold of at the Crossroads, the metaphorical point of joining between two worlds, hence the name of this class. The Crossroader is someone who has either taken these stories to heart and thinks they can outsmart Old Scratch, or someone who feels they have nothing to lose by getting into a pact with an ancient being of darkness. The Devil is arrogant enough that he honestly doesn't care about making bets or even exchanging services rather than a direct transfer of the soul, and he's more than willing to wait decades or even centuries for a Crossroader who wished for Agelessness (that'd be you, player character, and it doesn't cost anything extra) to fail and die. A Crossroader gets to keep their powers regardless of whether or not the Devil gets to keep their soul, which is rather sporting of him.
A Crossroader gains a specific amount of points to buy advantages based on what exactly the details of the deal they made are. The most powerful Crossroaders are those who have given up their souls with no strings attached, or those who have directly challenged him to a contest a la The Devil Went Down to Georgia. Mid-tier are those who have either accept to do one favor for the Devil at some point in time and have a period of seven days to do it when the favor is requested (the Devil can't request anything the character can't possibly do, so there's at least a fair chance to keep their soul) or those that have made a bet that they can complete either a grand task (some examples given are going seven years without touching metal, becoming the president of the USA, or becoming the best dueler in every state of the union) or get two souls in exchange for their one soul. And then, down at the bottom, are those people who haven't wagered their soul at all, and have instead agreed to perform a regular service for the Devil. Of course, since those services are pretty sinful things in their own right such as "murder one person each month" or "make someone commit adultery every week", the Devil's probably banking on getting your soul in the end anyway.
What Crossroaders actually get for their bargaining comes in a variety of fun shapes and forms. On top of being able to buy normal advantages, you can cash in deal points for the ability to automatically escape any bonding, uber-gambling skill, five free levels to put into one or more Conjure skills, fabulous wealth, the ability to become invisible at will (though machines and mirrors can still spot you), invulnerability to one form of damage, the rather unique ability Physical Supremacy (your Strength, Speed, and Endurance score are always at least one point higher than the highest of those scores had by individuals the Crossroader can directly see or hear), supernaturally good talent in either Music, Performance, Painting/Drawing, or Writing, supernaturally beautiful appearance, or immunity to lie detection and a bonus to Charisma rolls made to affect others through speech.
Hags, also known as witches or boo hags (the latter being a term that comes from the Gullah people of South Carolina), are haggard beings that have the distinction of being one of the earliest forms of Ageless, individuals of their kind having sprung up here and there since humans started getting social structure in the first place. A lot of hags are outcast and ostracized individuals who pledged themselves to the Devil but forgot to actually give any terms, a fact that makes most Crossroaders feel haughty and superior around hags. Others are simply individuals whose sin and vice were so great that they became bogged down in their own wickedness. And still others were simply born destined to become hags, marked by vermin spirits from the depths of the ghostly realm known as the Lower World. In spite of the etymology of the term, hags can be either male or female, but all of them regardless of sex or origin are always distinguished by being obscenely ancient in appearance. They are extremely weak and fragile, almost too sickly to even move their own body weight...unless they stay committed to the Ride, that is. It is the Ride that drives all hags and allows them to keep their vim and vigor even in their shriveled forms. In game terms, this means that the hag suffers a -2 to Agility, Endurance, and Strength when they haven't Ridden anyone.
The Ride is actually a combination of two Conjure skills that are not limited to hags, but are innately vital to their survival. Since they are so important to understanding the hag at all, I'll cover them now rather than waiting until we get to skills later. The Leave Skin skill allows a person to literally crawl out of their own skin, taking off as a spirit. A moderate Leave Skin roll (a roll result beating 20) is the baseline and means you are an intangible spirit, and by passing larger barriers you can switch from spirit to corporeal form instead: a frog, owl, or snake at a roll of 30 or better, and a dog, wolf, or your human form at a roll of 40 or better. If the skin is destroyed while the caster is in an animal form, they are forever stuck in that form, and if the skin is salted or slathered in pepper the caster suffers Shocking Pain when they return to it. The other skill is Ride Humans, which also has two different forms. The normal form that requires a 20 or better roll involves crawling on top of someone and either shoving a bridle in their mouth or latching onto their hair. The poor soul suffers -1 Endurance per minute, each point of which can be put into your Endurance, Strength, Speed, or Blood score for 24 hours if you're not a hag; for the hag, it's basically a nightly refill of all their myriad penalties. You can also choose to ride a horse rather than a person in spite of the skill's name, but this is unoptimal as you get the same draining per hour rather than per minute. And speaking of horses, the other thing you can do with Ride Humans is go for a roll result of 30 or better and literally ride the human. They temporarily gain Strength, Speed, and Endurance scores as if they were an actual horse, gain a +20 to rolls made to jump, and act in the same way a loyal beast of burden would. This doesn't wake the unfortunate target, but does cause them to suffer nightmares.
Hags also have five optional special powers that cost character points to add to their repertoire. A hag tied to the Devil gets three of these abilities. One is her own personal Nightmare, a hellish steed from the Devil's own stables. Another is a familiar, which can take the form of a cat, rat, frog, or beetle. The familiar has the soul of a wicked mortal rather than a beast and must feed on the blood of the hag through a bite mark the Devil made on her shoulder, known as a witch mark. Finally, the third is the Witchball, a tar-like ball of diabolic energy that can be thrown as a projectile into someone's mouth. The Witchball becomes invisible when it is thrown, and inside the stomach of the victim it festers and causes them to lose 4 Endurance and Strength and 1 Blood each day. The Witchball can be forcibly removed by the Conjure skills Cleansing or Christian Exorcism, and the hag can remove the ball and return it to her person at will. There is only one Witchball, but it can be used indefinitely, and the only way to destroy it is through fire.
Hags that are inhabited by Lower Worlders can buy the ability to take on the form of a will-o-wisp rather than an intangible spirit when they use the normal rank of the Leave Skin skill. They deal rather painful damage to anyone they touch in such a form, but they also take damage from water and anything else that would douse a fire. Finally, the last optional ability hags can learn is available to any hag regardless of origin, and it's a unique Conjure skill only they can possess known as Young Face. On a roll of 20 or better, a hag that has used the Leave Skin skill sheds their elderly skin to take on the form they had in their 20s. While they can still take on an intangible form whenever they want to travel faster, this is effectively the "true" form of the hag when leaving the skin rather than the spirit form. The big caveat of the skill is that the hag can be killed if their skin is destroyed, and they are forced to return to their skin as soon as it is daylight, both of which are downgrades from the regular Leave Skin skill.
Hoodoo doctors are those who fuel their magic through a combination of willpower, various herbs and animal parts, and specific magical formulae. They are typically associated with black Conjure workers that blend Christianity and folk magic such as the legendary Doctor Buzzard (look him up if you have the time, he's a fascinating fellow), but it is just as possible to find Hoodoo doctors that have come from the Irish fairy doctor traditions or various Native American practices. There are also some New Agers and Wiccans that have learned the ways of Conjure, but Ageless Hoodoo doctors tend to look down upon them as fad chasers who don't know the hard work and ceremony that it takes to become a "proper" master of the Hoodoo practice. Of course, they have little room to talk, as they spurned their Christian faith and decided to use special Conjure bags to halt their aging rather than face God at the throne.
Most Hoodoo doctors are effectively magicians for hire. You come to them with a problem, and they fix it with the power of Conjure. There's not as much business as there used to be, given that there are now actual doctors and social services on a widespread level, but if your problem is strictly supernatural or you really want revenge on someone but want it to be done discreetly, then these individuals are still your best bet. Hoodoo doctors are also often crusaders against hags and loup garou (a form of Ageless that will be covered in the next post), since letting your community get harmed by supernatural predators tends to be bad for business. Crossroaders are usually given a bit more leeway if they aren't doing anything actively harmful, but they are always seen with suspicion due to their diabolic origins, and often outright looked down on for getting magic in what Hoodoo doctors see as a craven manner.
Just what advantages a Hoodoo doctor gets depends on which if three archetypes they take. The Two-Head Doctor is a Hoodoo doctor that specializes specifically in healing, often with strong Christian overtones. They get to buy Protection type Conjure skills on the cheap but have to spend above-average points to buy any Diabolical type Conjure, and get one rank each in the Light Roots and Faith Healing conjure skills for free. Conjurers are those who engage primarily in intervention through harmful spells. They aren't necessarily evil, though, and many of them feel they are doing the community a service in the same manner as someone who sells firearms for protection. Conjurers get to buy Hands type Conjure skills cheaply and are the general all-rounder when it comes to other forms of Conjure. Thirdly, there's the Fortune Teller, who looks into knowledge of the past, present, and future. These Hoodoo doctors have a discount on Fortune type Conjure skills, and get three ranks in either the Omen, Jack Consultation, or Reading skill.
Next Time, in Hoodoo Blues:
Howl at the moon, summon some spirits, march in the Saints, and make some magic as we cover the other three Ageless and get into skills of both the Conjure and mundane varieties.
Chapter 1 Continued
Original SA post
Chapter 1 Continued
Character Classes Continued
Lycanthrope, werewolf, Loup Garou, rougarou: all are different names for the same beastly Ageless. Some individuals intentionally ally themselves with the Devil to gain the ferocious power of a beast, while others become a Loup Garou by a Conjure worker's curse, being bitten by an existing Loup Garou, or attracting the Devil's attention and being cursed by him by being antisocial and violent individuals who wallow in constant sins. While a bitten or cursed person can reverse their malady by not revealing their cursed status to anyone for a hundred and one days, a player Loup Garou is an Ageless individual who either didn't know about this escape clause, failed to keep their secret, or intentionally revealed it to keep their monstrous side. The Loup Garou can take human or beast form at will, and retains their awareness and sense of self. Where the curse comes in is in the Hunger: a Loup Garou always has a gnawing desire for human flesh. In game terms, this is a forced Willpower roll that is made once a week as well as whenever a Loup Garou smells human blood, a failure meaning they have an overwhelming compulsion to kill and eat a person immediately. It is a difficulty of 20 to force the compulsion to accept killing and eating a large animal such as a deer or a cow instead, and one of 30 to avoid compulsively eating any living thing for that week. To avoid them being completely villainous if they aren't succeeding on their Willpower rolls all the time, the player of a Loup Garou that fails their check is at least allowed to pick a victim if they wish. The text explains this trait by stating that some Loups Garoux (that would be the plural of Loup Garou) effectively become vigilantes, dealing out murderous justice whenever the Hunger strikes them.
On top of the Hunger, Loups Garoux have various other weaknesses, all courtesy of actual folklore. In animal form, a Loup Garou spreads the curse of the Loup Garou to non-Ageless humans they bite but manage to avoid killing, suffers Shocking Pain from salt, suffers full damage from iron or silver attacks, and is forced to revert to human form and stay that way for twenty four hours if stabbed with a stake or other similar pointed wooden object. If they want a few extra points for point buy, they can also buy a few other disadvantages such as claustrophobia, a crippling fear of frog croaks (yes, this is an actual thing from Cajun folk tales), or the need to count any large amount of small objects after they are scattered on the ground in front of them. There's also the little issue of death. While not directly relevant to the players, dead Loups Garoux who were unredeemed and Hell-bound get transforms into beasts known as hellhounds. These will get explained further in the bestiary near the end of the book, but to make things short they forcibly remain in animal form and are slaves of the Devil, unable to disobey his orders.
The primary boon of the Loup Garou is the ability to take on an animal form. The favored form a Loup Garou can take is usually a wolf, but it can also be a dog, cat, or owl. In this form, they take half damage from sources that aren't iron or silver, large stat boosts, and natural attacks. A special skill, Animal Form, allows the Loup Garou to further their shapeshifting prowess, being able to transform into animals other than their primary one with a roll passing 20, have their animal form spring out of their body and move freely while the human body remains unconscious but hopefully out of harm's way by passing 30, and retain human-like hands and the power of speech by passing 40. There is also an optional advantage that Loups Garoux can buy that grants them a giant bat as a familiar. According to Cajun stories, the rougarou/Loup Garou has command over a giant bat, and uses it to both fly through the night and to get to secret meetings of their kind held in the ghost town of Bayou Goula. Hoodoo Blues takes this beautiful ball and runs with it, having the Bayou Goula meetings and the giant bats both be mentioned in the text, and conveniently giving the giant bats their own statistics along with the aforementioned advantage to use one. As is befitting a bat the size of a prop airplane, giant bats have plenty of wing to do knockback attacks as well as fly, their Endurance and Strength stats are double that of the most powerful Ageless and their Speed stat is even higher still, and they are capable of carrying their master in their talons.
A form of Conjure worker whose powers lie in maintaining purity against "spiritual pollution" and interacting with the spiritual beings of the Lower World and Higher World. Ageless Medicine Workers are those who have taken their spiritual rituals to the next levels and have almost entirely halted the ravages of time. While they are traditionally Native American, anyone can theoretically learn Medicine work by interacting with Native American peoples, such as runaway slaves that joined up with the Seminole or members of the attempted Jewish-Native American confederacy of Mordecai Manuel Noah. Medicine Workers see both Hoodoo Doctors and Voodoos as kindred spirits, the former for their knowledge of Conjure materials and the latter for their contact with spiritual entities, but see some of the actions of both as spiritually impure enough that they like to keep a bit of distance. Loups Garoux and Hags are both seen as horrific monsters that have plagued the Americas since long before the white man came, however, and Crossroaders are mocked for their willingness to get into deals with a spirit known for being insincere.
While technically being Ageless, Medicine Workers still suffer some of the effects of aging, losing a point of Strength, Agility, Speed, or Endurance (player's choice) and getting a -1 to seduction rolls for each decade beyond 60 they are. They also suffer a -20 to all Conjure skills if they don't have a specially constructed bag of magical ingredients known as a medicine bag on their person, and suffer a -10 to Conjure skills if they are spiritually "polluted". Things that can cause a Medicine Worker to suffer from spiritual pollution include being near someone as they die, eating birds of prey, incest, touching lightning-struck wood, touching a corpse or grave, or eating food made by a woman on her period. Two other disadvantages that can be optionally taken for more points are either having a ghostly ancestor that hangs around wanting you to avenge some crime from their life, or a spirit curse known as Puzzlement that causes the faces of strangers to seemingly randomly appear as people the Medicine Worker already knows. For benefits, the Medicine Doctor gets a rank each in the Light Roots, Cleansing, and Compel Spirits skills for free, and can buy Native type Conjure skills cheaply. They can also optionally buy proper Agelessness rather than partial Agelessness or get a +10 to Conjure skills that involve divination due to being the younger of a pair of twins.
As it spread from the Caribbean to the United States, the central African religious practices of vodun eventually syncreticized with Catholicism, creating what is often referred to as Louisiana voodoo, Southern voodoo, or just voodoo for short. The deities or spirits known as the loa became associated with Christian saints, with old rituals taking on a new veneer of Biblical pageantry. For the purposes of Conjure, it doesn't really matter whether you are invoking the saint or the loa, just that you are invoking them properly. Most of the invocation involves showing respect and giving the loa/saint gifts that they are particularly fond of. Calling on Papa Legba/St. Peter typically involves white rum and tobacco, Ogun/St. Michael enjoys red beans and rice, and Baron Samedi/St. Expedite enjoys black roosters or goats and peppered rum, to name some examples.
Voodoos gain two free ranks of the Conjure skill Monter le Tate, and can buy other Conjure skills of the Saints category cheaply as well. Monter le Tate is a Willpower-based Saints Conjure skill that involves invoking a loa/saint through a specific ritual so that they "Ride" (possess) the Voodoo practitioner or another member of the ritual. Seven specific loa/saints are given paragraphs of information for convenience: Papa Legba/St. Peter, Damballah Wedo/St. Patrick, Ayida Wedo/Mother Mary, Ogun/St. Michael, Oshun/St. Mary Magdalene, Baron Samedi/St. Expedite, and Simbi Makaya/Moses. Each of the loa/saints has their own eccentricities and actions that they manifest on the individual being ridden, as well as specific things they are knowledgeable of and favors they are willing to grant if you ask them nicely and humbly. For example, Baron Samedi likes to wear dapper attire, smoke cigars, and speak obscenely toward women when he's Riding, and is capable of helping you out if you need someone on the other side contacted, protection from foul Conjure, or some sexual mojo. It takes a roll of 20 or better to perform the Monter la Tate successfully with a dozen faithful Voodoo practitioners in attendance, 30 or better if the group is five strong and/or contains half-hearted believers or unbelievers, and 40 or better if it's just the caster alone.
Voodoos have no mandatory disadvantages, but can take one of two optional ones for those sweet bonus points. Offended Saint means that there is a specific loa/saint that the Voodoo has pissed off and cannot invoke as much as it may be needed. Riding Another, on the other hand, is a flaw related to Agelessness. Specifically, someone who has Riding Another has not achieved Agelessness in the traditional sense, as their body continues to age and will die of old age normally. They are instead immortal by stealing the body of a younger person, subsuming their soul and taking charge. This is unsurprisingly considered evil and will almost always lead to the Voodoo being hunted by Hoodoo Doctors, Medicine Workers, and other Voodoos alike if they are found out. Of course, Hoodoo Doctors aren't on the best of terms with even the most heroic Voodoos, as they tend to see Hoodoo Doctors as their yokel cousins who can't do Conjure in the prim and proper manner.
Step Five: Skills
Skills in Hoodoo Blues don't work all that differently from the way you see skills usually used in other games, be they d20 system, GURPS, or whatever: you put together the results of a d20 roll, the attribute the skill is based on, and the number of skill points you have in said skill, and you see if you beat the required difficulty check. Unlike the somewhat more varied DCs of things like Dungeons and Dragons, however, there are only four flat difficulty checks for the ORC System and thus Hoodoo Blues by proxy: Easy (roll a 10 or better), Moderate (20), Hard (30), and Legendary (40). There are two types of skill, Conjure (anything magical) and Mundane (anything that isn't), any of which can have one to five ranks total put into them. You have one hundred points of your point buy to put into skills, and the cost varies depending on what type of Ageless you are and what category the skill you are trying to buy is in. For instance, say you want to get all five ranks in Lock Picking because you plan on your character being a master burglar. Lock Picking is under the Troublemaking category of skills. If you're a Loup Garou, you're going to be spending five points per rank in Lock Picking for a total of twenty-five for full ranks, while a Hag has to spend seven points for rank for a higher total of thirty-five of her hundred points.
Conjure comes in seven categories, some having far greater spell variety than others: Diabolical (three skills, two of which are the Hag's specialties of Leave Skin and Ride Human), Fortune (four skills), Hands (fifteen skills), Native (six skills), Protection (six skills), Resolve (six skills), and Saints (five skills). Now, I'm the idiot that unironically likes more than a few d20 systems and GURPS, but I'm fairly sure I'm still qualified to say that there's something a bit off about those category sizes when you remember that there's a class that gets a big discount on buying the one that has the most skills. Now, in
the idea of some classes getting discounts on specific types of skill is neat, but in execution it's just the Hoodoo Doctor flipping other Ageless off with both hands while a bunch of Blingee effects blindingly dance around him. Shuffling some of the more harmful Hands spells into Diabolic could probably go a long way to alleviating this issue. Regardless, let's talk about some specific spells that haven't already been covered in the class overviews in that ever-popular bullet points format. While there aren't so many Conjure skills that it would be impossible to cover them all, I decided to cut out discussion of ones that are really self-explanatory (like Divining Rod, which makes a stick into...a divining rod, or Christian Exorcism being used for exactly what you'd expect exorcisms to do) or in that infamous category of "useful but not interesting to talk about" (such as Ariolatio, a Saints skill that is a "shake this holy item for yes, don't move for no" ask questions-style divination to a spirit or deity).
Crossroads Contact (Intelligence-based Diabolic skill):
This actually should have been discussed when I talked about the Crossroader, but I completely blanked out and missed that they get a free rank in this skill.
Anyway, this is the Conjure you use to call up the Devil at a crossroads where there are no people. It's an Easy roll to call him if it's a country road during the full moon, a Moderate roll to call him if it's a city road or it's a night where the moon isn't full, and a Hard roll to call him inside a private residence at night with your own homemade "crossroads" that is just an X you drew on the floor with magic powder.
Animal Powder (Willpower-based Hands skill):
For those who like their magic in body horror flavor, this little piece of Conjure is ready and waiting. By grinding up a snake, salamander, snail, or worm into a Conjure powder, you can then attune and apply this powder on someone, causing a swarm of animals the powder was made from to crawl beneath the person's skin and in their eyes. On top of being absolutely terrifying, this causes blindness, Distracting Pain, and 1 Blood damage per day. As the animals are only visible to those who have magic sight (Ageless, non-Ageless Hoodoo or Voodoo workers, etc.), mundane medical workers are helpless to help the victim's seeming self harm-inducing delusional parasitosis. The only remedies are the healing Conjure skills Light Roots, Faith Healing, and Cleansing. It's an Easy roll to make powder that must be ingested, Moderate for powder that must be thrown in the face, Hard for powder that just needs to be walked on by the target, and Legendary for powder that just needs to be blown by the wind into the target.
Go-Crazy Hand (Willpowder-based Hands skill):
This one is always a Moderate roll, and requires you to have a hair of the victim. You need to either thread the hair through the gills of a live catfish and then set it loose, or cut into a living tree and stick the hair inside it. Either way, the result is that the victim starts falling under the Conjure a day later, suffering hallucinations, panic attacks, and bouts of anger at random. The victim is only restored to normal if the hair is removed or the catfish/tree dies. I can only imagine the hilarity of failing to properly keep someone hexed because your Hoodoo'd catfish got caught and eaten.
Po' Man's Lawyer (Willpower-based Hands skill):
Take some John the Conqueror root and two other random common mojo components, grind them up while reciting Psalms 23 from the Bible, and succeed on a Moderate roll, and you have yourself a guaranteed way to beat the law. You can either have the ground ingredients in a mojo bag that you put over your doorsill, protecting the house from any law enforcement getting near it for one week, or you can sprinkle it in the four corners of a courtroom to have it affect the next court action in the courtroom to your favor.
Fire Spy (Awareness-based Native skill):
You can look through one fire to see into other fires. If you don't know exactly where the fire you want to look in is, you can "switch channels" as it were until you find the right fire. Anyone who can see spirits can spot your eyes glowing in their fire when you view through it. It's an Easy roll to check fires within a ten mile radius, Moderate for a fifty mile radius, Hard for a hundred mile radius, and Legendary for the entire planet.
Silver Dime (Willpower-based Protection skill):
Do a Moderate roll to make a magic dime. It will turn black if in the presence of harmful Conjure, let you know someone's been hexed by turning black when you put it under their tongue, and tug on your leg to warn you that you are about to step on harmful Conjure if you tie it to a string around said leg.
Faith Healing (Willpower-based Resolve skill):
Belief is a two-way straight in this case. While the Conjure worker has to make the skill check while engaging in a laying on of hands and invoking some deity or spirit they believe in, the person being targeted for healing also has to believe that the healing will work, otherwise the check automatically fails. This is a pretty big deal when this is the only spell that actually heals what passes for hit points in Hoodoo Blues It's an Easy roll to restore one Blood or Body point or cure a disease on the level of the common cold, a Moderate roll to restore two Blood or Body points or cure a disease on the level of the flu, a Hard roll to restore all Blood or Body points or cure most chronic diseases, and a Legendary roll to cure blindness, deafness, muteness, lameness, or cancer.
Ghost Payoff (Willpower-based Saints skill):
The Conjure worker goes to the grave of a friend or old acquaintance, calls out their name three times, and then bribes them with whiskey and either three pennies or their favorite food in life. If the skill roll afterward is successful, the ghost manifests as a Power 10 h'aint (we'll have to wait for the bestiary section for more on what that means) willing to do the task asked of them. Only one example is given of each difficulty level, leaving a bit of guesswork on just what it takes to get a ghost to do what you want. The specific examples are spooking someone as an Easy roll, guarding a house for a day as a Moderate roll, and fighting another spirit as a Hard roll.
On top of actual Conjure skills, there is also a secondary form of Conjure simply known as
. Each Ritual is tied to a specific category of Conjure, and anyone who has at least one rank in one skill of that Conjure skill category just needs to be able to finish the ritual and doesn't need any particular skill roll to "seal the deal", as it were. Those who don't have any skill points in that category must make a Hard Willpower roll to activate the Ritual after performing its steps due to the fact that they are dabbling in Conjure they don't fully understand. Some specific Rituals include the Fortune ritual
(poke a dog in the eye, then touch the finger you used to poke it into your own eye, and for five minutes you can see spirits and anything else that happens to be invisible to the naked eye), the Hands rituals
Stop up Excretion
(put someone's feces in a bottle and hide it in a tree, and they'll suffer constipation until they die from bowel backup in a week if they don't receive surgery or have their poop jar destroyed) and
Stop a Drinker
(put a few drops of catfish blood in someone's alcohol, and they will be unable to ever drink that type of alcohol again without feeling ill), the Native ritual
(scratch someone with the spur of a male turkey's foot, and they get a +4 to Strength and Endurance for an unstated but temporary amount of time), and the Protection ritual
Burn a Hag Victim
(burn someone ridden by a Hag in the past twenty-four hours and the hag takes the same burn damage, which seems kind of a dick move even if it's for a good cause).
Those things normal people do. There are seven different categories of mundane skill:
has creative skills such as Painting/Drawing, Performance, and Sculpture (nine skills in total),
is academic subjects ranging from Religion to Business to Chemistry and Surgery (twenty-one skills in total),
is a weird smattering of "rural" skills including Acrobatics, Swimming, and Tracking (fifteen skills in total),
is a smattering of military or combat-oriented skills such as Archery, Boxing, and Rifle/Shotgun Combat (twenty skills in total),
is skills that mostly involve modern technology such as Computers and Forensics but also inexplicably has the martial arts combat skills Aikido and Tae Kwon Do (seven skills in total), and
is primarily illicit skills such as Forgery, Lock Picking, and Torture but also inexplicably has the martial arts combat skill Capoiera (twenty-four skills in total). I'm honestly not someone who really cares about a skill list being complex, but I kind of just wanted to breeze over this section as fast as possible because what more can you really say about things that real people can actually do anyway?
Step Six: Decades and Motivations
In a really awkward decision, the amount of money you start the game with depends on race. You start with $800 if you're white, $400 if you're Native American, and $200 if you are black or anything else. While yes, systematic racism is a thing in America and definitely in the Deep South, I'm not exactly sure why these exact numbers were chosen for these specific races, beyond the obvious of white folks having the biggest piece of the pie. It probably would have been simpler to just go the old standard route of economic status instead.
Age and Weariness:
In my viewing of other reviews of Hoodoo Blues, I noticed that the biggest problem most people pointed out was the Weariness system. It turns out that they aren't wrong about it being kind of a problem. For each decade of the characters' life, you state in vague terms what they were doing, which gives both a benefit and a certain amount of Weariness. For instance, in a decade the character was Fightin' (which is defined as any combat-filled decade ranging from time as a soldier to swashbuckling pirate adventures) gives 2 Weariness but also three free ranks to put in any Martial category skills, while a decade of Helpin' (any sort of philanthropic activity-heavy decade) 1 Weariness but also a free ally. You add up the Weariness of every decade of the character's life and subtract it from your Willpower score. Since even the most benevolent and peaceful ways to spend a decade produce 1 Weariness, you can't escape it.
What makes it a problem is that, if you recall, a lot of Conjure skills are Willpower-based. This creates an inverse "Dungeons and Dragons old people have better hearing and sight than young people" situation, wherein the supposed all-powerful Ageless Hoodoo Doctor has less Conjure skill than his young apprentice simply because he's older. To at least be fair, you half Weariness if the character is working toward one of their Motivations, which will be discussed below. It's not a removal of the penalty entirely, but it is at least a step in the right direction.
While everyone has motivation, not everyone has Motivation. What I'm talking about here is the Motivation system, wherein you select five things that your Ageless character is so dedicated to that even their ridiculously long lives haven't fully satisfied those urges. Motivations are divided into the categories of
(something you hold an eternal grudge against, such as the Devil, slavery, or the Federal government),
(the big questions, like "why does evil exist?" or "is there a limit to how powerful Conjure can be?"),
(long-term vows and obligations, such as "protect my home state" or "look after my descendents"),
(experience some form of pleasure that you have yet to be satisfied with, like the most fulfilling sexual experience or the wonder of finding a completely new land),
(a sin you have never forgiven yourself for after your conscience caught up with you, such as fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War, owning slaves, or aiding the Devil), and
Fear of Damnation
(you don't want to go anywhere bad when you die). Motivations have two main goals for the course of the game. On the short-term, they reduce the penalties of Weariness as I mentioned before. On the long-term, they are the things that drive the Ageless forward, and after they have lost all their Motivations by either achieving them or finding them to be impossible they are considered to be at peace. This is effectively the end of their character journey, and is suggested to the point where you pack that character up and roll a new one.
Step Seven: Equipment
Not much new to say about equipment, beyond that there's a lot of it. One of Hoodoo Blues's stated intentions is to allow you to play at any time in the life of an Ageless, so there's a load of materials from the 1800s to today. This means that in the table of firearms you have the black powder pistol and matchlock rifle next to the machine gun and the hunting rifle, and vehicles go from coach to sports car. Beyond weapons and transport, there are also a myriad of survival gear, creature comforts, drugs and alcohol, and various other things you expect to see in roleplaying games.
Step Eight: Advantages and Disadvantages
If you have some ability that isn't based on an attribute or a skill, it's an advantage if positive or disadvantage if negative. There are thirty bonus points that are related to advantages, as well as more that can be gained through disadvantages (but not a lot, most only give around 1 BP to 4 BP). Advantage bonus points can also be funneled into attributes and health attributes if you want to boost those further instead, though the conversion rate for the latter is 3 BP of advantages to 1 BP of health attributes. There are a total of thirty-six advantages and sixy-eight disadvantages, a lot of which are self-explanatory things like Physically Attractive, Ordained Minister, Obese, or Mute. So rather than talk about any of those, I'll talk about some of the interesting supernatural and folkloric ones.
Next Time in Hoodoo Blues:
The character was born with a caul, a membrane over the head. According to Southern folklore, caulborn folk can see the invisible world, and it's true in the world of Hoodoo Blues. One of the notable real world people who were caulborn is Alan Moore, which makes more sense with the folklore than it probably should.
Joe "Frizzly Rooster' Hudson was a legendary Hoodoo doctor mentioned in Zora Neale Hurston's folklore collection Mules and Men. Amongst his many purported accomplishments, one was the distribution of magical keys that can unlock any door, but lose their power if they ever touch the ground. The character happens to have one of these keys for some reason or another, maybe even having gotten it off Frizzly Rooster himself.
If you can get a Hag's bridle into her mouth as she tries to Ride you, she is forcibly transformed into a horse. This means that you get a powerful Ageless steed that, while ill-tempered and spiteful, is enchanted to be loyal to a fault. Of course, if the bridle were ever to be removed somehow...well, that's probably going to be a messy situation. One that probably ends horribly for you.
The letiche is a monstrous reptilian humanoid giant of the Louisiana bayou, said to be created when a child is abandoned in a swamp and raised by alligators while being touched by the swamp's magic. While full-fledged letiche are later on in the book's bestiary, you can take an advantage that makes you part letiche, specifically someone who started transforming but was rescued and brought back to society before it finished. The semi-letiche character is weirdly pale and has no body hair, and gets the mechanical alterations of claws and sharp teeth, +3 to Awareness, Agility, and Strength, four free ranks of Swimming, +10 Endurance for purposes of breath-holding, +10 for saving throws against Conjure, +7 to saving throws against heat exhaustion, -10 to saving throws against anger, fear, and pain, and -7 to saving throws against hypothermia.
You have a hold of an ulusunti. It looks like a large crystal with a blood red streak down the middle, but it's actually a scale from a titanic Lower World snake spirit called an uktena. The ulusunti must have blood dripped into it to "feed" it weekly, or it will explode into a fiery blaze. As long as it is kept placated, the strange scale-crystal is capable of acting as a divining tool that grants visions as well as a +7 bonus to any sort of roll that is directly used in hunting, finding love, or making rain.
Born With Clenched Fists:
The folkloric fates demand that one who is born with their fists clenched is destined to become a thief. The character gets four free levels distributed through any Troublemaking skills, but also has to make a Hard Willpower roll to avoid stealing anything the character wants badly or needs at the moment.
Born to Drown:
Congratulations, because you were born face-down, you're going to die a horrible watery death! The character gets a -10 to Swimming saves or Endurance saves to hold their breath to avoid drowning, and fate seems to always keep them from straying too far from water. Aren't folk birth beliefs wonderful?
Is it possible to actually leave the first chapter?
The answer is yes, because we finished it here. We'll be speeding through the chapter on how ORC system games are run and entering the chapter about the ins and outs of the South.
Chapter 2: Organic Rule Components, Chapter 3: The South
Original SA post
Chapter 2: Organic Rule Components
Hoodoo Blues posted:
In traditional (what some would call ‘simulationist’) role playing, which is what ORC was designed for, players each take the role of a character and the GM takes the role of the rest of the universe. When a player says his or her character does something, the GM decides what the logical result of that action would be. (E.g. “I throw a rock at the window.” “The window shatters.”)
Thus the first rule of game play is “what happens is what the GM thinks would happen.” All the other rules exist only for those rare times where the GM doesn’t trust himself or herself to be impartial and realistic. For instance, a PC tries to lift a wounded comrade, can she do it? If the GM is sure one way or the other the GM just says “you can do it” or “you can’t” and no rules are needed. It is only when the GM isn’t sure that rules and die rolls need to be used. In other words, the rules that follow are designed to be used sparingly and should never override the GM’s common sense.
Use mechanics, except when you don't. Simple enough to remember.
This chapter is mostly a rundown of things that we already know, just in more detail. What rolls are connected to an attribute rather than a skill, how health attributes and damage to them works, etc. Other parts, like combat, are so similar to actual d20 system mechanics that it almost seems pointless to cover them just because ORC has slightly different terms. To avoid just skimming over the content of chapter 2 entirely, I will at least briefly go over noteworthy rules first covered by it rather than somewhere in chapter 1.
Shocking and Distracting Pain
Effectively two specific forms of Willpower roll, but worthy of going over at least briefly given that they are mentioned but not covered a lot during chapter 1. Shocking Pain is a sudden, unexpected pain, like being stabbed or touching an open flame. If you fail your Willpower roll against Shocking Pain by 1 to 9, you lose your next offensive action, while failing it by 10 or more means you lose both your next offensive and defensive action (effectively losing a turn). Distracting Pain is instead a pain that lingers after it first appears, like a headache. You make a roll at the onset of the pain that affects your reaction for however long the pain lasts. However much you fail your Willpower roll by is how much you get a penalty to skill rolls and conscious actions. So a failure by 2 is a -2 penalty, by 3 a -3 penalty, etc.
Long has the debate raged over whether armor as damage avoidance or armor as damage reduction should be used in specific roleplaying games. Everybody wins in Hoodoo Blues, though, as you get both! Armor Rating reflects how much coverage your defenses have, with an attack roll (either a combat action, which we'll cover in a moment, or d20 + relevant combat skill + relevant attribute for combat directly related to a skill) that bypasses the AR meaning that you avoid the armor entirely and make it irrelevant for the attack. AR goes from 3 for torso-only armor up to 20 for bomb suits and other full coverage materials. Assuming you don't bypass the AR, Protection Rating comes in. PR is damage reduction, meaning that your attack damage is reduced accordingly.
Non-Standard Damage and Symptoms
Bladed and blunt damage aren't the only ways to be hurt, of course. Some are merely alterations of those two primary forms of damage, such as skid damage being both bladed and blunt damage that increases by one point for each 20 Speed a character is moving as they slide down rough terrain or ragged damage being bladed damage that also also forces a cumulative -5 to saves to avoid contracting disease with each point of damage, while others follow their own rules. The following are some of the more unique ones.
Burn damage deals one point of damage to your Blood score, forces a roll to avoid Shocking Pain (difficulty is 10 per point of burn damage), induces a cumulative -5 to saves against contracting disease per point of damage, and forces a roll to avoid Physiological Shock (difficulty is 10 per five points of burn damage). Physiological Shock is a condition that is saved against by Endurance, and is quite nasty if you fail. A failed roll against Physiological Shock means your Endurance score drops to nothing, your other attributes are all halved, and you suffer a point of Blood damage per minute.
Electricity damage causes a point of burn damage for every four points of electricity damage taken, forces a Willpower save (DC is 20 per point of electricity damage) to avoid paralysis, forces another Willpower save (DC 10 per point of electricity damage) to avoid falling unconscious, and forces an Endurance save (DC 5 per point of electricity damage) to avoid suffering a point of Blood damage per round from suffering cardiac arrest.
Heat and Cold:
An hourly Endurance save against either heat exhaustion or hypothermia. The first failed save halves all your attributes, while any subsequent failure deals a point of Blood damage.
Each point of radiation damage deals a point of unhealable Blood damage, a -1 to Intelligence and Awareness, -2 to Endurance, forces a DC 10 Willpower save to avoid headaches (Distracting Pain, but locked at a -1 penalty in spite of how much the roll fails), and forces a DC 10 Willpower save to avoid vomiting (-20 to all actions since you are puking your guts out).
While a lot of the terminology Hoodoo Blues uses for combat (Initiative, rounds, etc.) should be familiar to those who know standard d20 systems, the actual implementation in ORC is worth at least a few brief notes. Initiative is based on Awareness plus Intelligence rather than Dexterity, a full round is a half a second rather than six seconds, and a round only consists of a single offensive action and a single defensive reaction/reaction per person.
Combat Actions and Reactions
These are what other games might call combat maneuvers or combat feats, as well as a few things that are their own stats in d20 systems. There are twenty offensive combat actions and six defensive reactions, each of which is achieved through a specific combination of attributes plus a d20 roll, with a certain difficulty class to bypass. Some specific examples include the following:
Chapter 3: The South
Everybody loves grappling, right? ...No? Well, it's here anyway. Immobilizing someone's arm with a grab is Strength and Agility (plus the d20, of course, but that's a given for any of these maneuvers) against a DC of 25. The hold remains until either the grappler lets go or the grappled individual wins a Strength vs. Strength roll contest. This can be modified to be Strength and Intelligence against a DC of 35 to grab in a way that forces a DC 20 Shocking Pain roll, Strength and Intelligence against a DC of 30 to effectively set your Strength to 30 and the opponent's to 10 for the purposes of the roll contest, or Strength and Agility against a DC of 25 to grab the neck rather than a limb and deal one Endurance and Blood damage per round until the chokehold is broken.
Put Strength and Agility against a DC of 30 to force an opponent to make a Willpower or Endurance roll (DC 20) or fall immediately unconscious. If the knockout roll result is 40 or higher, you also get to deal an extra 1d6 Blood damage.
You deal double damage by striking at an important organ. This is Intelligence and Strength against a DC of 40 for a blunt damage weapon and Intelligence and Agility against a DC of 35 for a bladed damage weapon.
Awareness plus Agility against DC 25, success meaning you avoid an attack without moving much in overall space.
Awareness and Agility against DC 20 means that this is easier than simply dodging, but it has the downside of you ending the round prone.
Agility and Strength against a DC of 35 lets you do a sick kick flip that both prevents you from taking damage and knocks the attacker prone.
An in-depth history of the Deep South from 1800 to the 1860s, as well as a few minor paragraphs on the 1970s to today. What is covered is covered very thoroughly: on top of a look at all that history, there are special sections for matters such as French interactions with the South, the daily life of a slave, the daily life of a Civil War soldier, the Underground Railroad, and the Tuskegee Airmen. While it's hard to attempt to sum up a reading of real world history for a thread about roleplaying games, but suffice to say my readthroughs didn't spy anything out of order. A fair warning should be given that the book is very much unflinching and graphic in this section as well, with actual photos of things such as decaying Civil War battlefield corpses and a slave's back that has been whipped so badly it looks like he was repeatedly ripped into by a big cat rather than any human-made device. Subjects including the fact that states' rights were concerned mainly with the right to own slaves, the fact that the Choctaw people and other Native American groups desperately threw in their lot with the Confederacy, and the issues of inner cities suffering economic disruption due to the White Flight of the 70s are also openly discussed rather than excused or ignored.
All about a general view of the South as a cultural entity. I'll try to give at least a little note on each smaller segment of this section, even if not all parts are equally interesting to share in a review rather than read because you want to read it.
Southern Manners and Southern Accents:
This segment covers the honor codes of Antebellum men and women, as well as the accents of various parts of the Deep South. A bit less interesting than the start of the chapter, unless you really like seeing the quirks of Appalachian, Cajun, and New Orleans accents written out.
A discussion of religion, of course. The chapter is divided up into the three main forms of Protestantism in the South (Southern Baptism, black-derived Protestantism, and Appalachian Pentecostalism), Catholicism, and spiritualist churches. While not directly tied to the supernatural, several of these religions intersect with it nonetheless. While black Protestants and spiritualist churches often intersect with hoodoo and Catholicism is involved in Louisiana voodoo, it's also noteworthy that Appalachian Pentecostals believe that the power of God protects them from poisons and venomous serpents. And really, who's to say they're wrong about that in the world of Hoodoo Blues?
Fried food, seafood, soul food, and a collection of other eatings.
As was probably made obvious in the fact that it was an active part of character creation, music is considered to be a very important part of Southern culture by Hoodoo Blues. Multiple paragraphs are dedicated to gospel music, jazz, the blues, country music, bluegrass, Cajun and Zydeco music, rock and roll, southern rock, and southern rap.
Not as overtly bad as in the past, but could be a lot better.
Blue Dog Democrats still exist, but the Southern Strategy worked well enough that most of the South is made up of red states.
Crime and Justice:
This section starts out with a foot pretty sternly in the past, courtesy of discussing vigilante justice. Colonel Charles Lynch and the favored method of vigilante killing named after him get a spotlight, as well as mob mentality and the nature of prejudiced and flawed vigilante "justice" in the South of yore. Also noted are duels and feuds over honor, complete with an entire seven step guide to the etiquette of a 19th Century pistol duel. Linking the past and the present together are discussions of bygone and contemporary thoughts on gambling, chain gangs and prison labor, moonshiners, and organized crime.
More about shotgun houses, Greek Revival artistry, and wrought iron than you can shake a protractor at.
In case you forgot that this is a book about playing Southern Gothic supernatural stories, we suddenly have that come back into the picture, if not to the fore. On top of a generalized history, lifestyle, and local slang of various specific cultural groups, there is a specific paragraph or two for each on what supernatural elements they associate with.
Also known as those folks you refer to as rednecks or hillbillies, the mountain people are the descendants of Scotch-Irish immigrants that settled in the Appalachians. They fought against both sides during the Civil War and at least some groups are still isolationist to this day. Mountain people hate Hags with a passion and have long fought against them and other evil spirits, usually with the help of their own Hoodoo Doctors that they refer to as Granny Women or White Witches.
An Appalachian group with black, white, and Native American heritage, the Melungeons were often associated with Hags by the White Witches of the mountain people due to their knowledge of African-American conjure that was unfamiliar in the region. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, some Melungeon individuals turned on their Baptist religious upbringing and became Hags out of frustration and vengeance, though just as many are conjure workers.
Louisiana's Canadian-descended denizens of the bayous and coastline. Cajun conjure workers are known as Traiteurs and primarily rely on the laying on of hands. The greatest supernatural dangers to Cajun communities are Loup-Garou and letiche, both of which are predatory beasts that can easily hide themselves in the same bayous that the Cajuns use to hunt and fish.
Like Cajuns, but French rather than French Canadian, and also sometimes having a smattering of Spanish or African-American. They don't get a supernatural notes section.
An African-American culture that was once found across the Atlantic Coast, but is now mainly restricted to South Carolina's Sea Islands. Their Hoodoo Doctors typically take animal-based nicknames, and Gullah Hags are simultaneously both feared and respected.
British-descended guys. Like the Creoles, they have no mention of any supernatural elements.
This entry actually mostly refers back to the Native American portion of the Southern History segment of the chapter.
I'm not sure why the section on the supernatural and the afterlife is before the one about the physical world, but I'm okay with that..
Souls and Other Worlds:
Humans have a soul, or possibly two, depending on who you ask. In the latter interpretation, one soul is the immortal soul of consciousness and creative expression while the other is merely the animated force that keeps the body alive. What is known is that there is a Heaven and a Hell, but also several other worlds on top of it. The Spirit World is the land of "pious heathens" and their gods, as well as ghostly entities and the wandering souls of Catholic Purgatory. Spirits also dwell in the Upper and Lower Worlds. The Upper World is the land of the sun, the moon, and great sapient beasts, while the Lower World is an aquatic land of monsters and predatory ghosts.
The ultimate gambler and trickster, the Devil is a dangerous being to encounter. While nicknames like Old Scratch and Old Hob have been given to him in an attempt to mock him and diffuse some of the fear he holds over the human heart, the fact remains that he is a wicked being, intent on prying a wedge into any kind of peace and comfort. The Devil is also very prideful and keeps his word even if it's disadvantageous in the end, which is what usually ends up allowing mortals to get the upper hand over him. If the Devil has a natural form, it's unknown, as he can take many forms: a huge black constrictor snake, a vicious wild beast, a raging whirlwind, an obsidian giant with burning coals for eyes, or a handsome man. On top of some Hags, Loups-Garoux, and Crossroaders, most of the servants of the Devil are demons, hellhounds, and Diabolists. The first are tempters and harassers, the second retrieve things the Devil wishes to have fetched for him, and the third are weirdos that worship him and use dark Conjure.
One particular piece of Southern folklore about the Devil is the tale of Bearskin, which gets retold in the entry. In the tale, the Devil comes to a war veteran who had lost everything and cannot find a home or a job. The Devil offers him a deal: go seven years wearing a bearskin cloak and never washing, grooming, or cutting his hair, and the Devil would give him wealth that would last the rest of his life. Fail, and the soldier's soul would be the Devil's. Unsurprisingly, as he wandered the land, people were typically terrified of this haggard caveman, but the soldier was always generous with the coins that would fill his pockets at the start of every day. One man was so grateful for the soldier's charity that he offered the hand of one of his three lovely daughters. One daughter was terrified like so many others, and another insulted the soldier's appearance, but the youngest daughter saw the soldier's kind heart and agreed to marry him when his sojourn was over in three more years' time.
At the end of the seven years, the Devil fulfilled his promise, and even personally cleaned and groomed the soldier in a way that made him even more handsome than he had been before the wager. The soldier went back to the household of the man and his three daughters, the two oldest vying for the attention of this handsome and wealthy gentleman. The third daughter initially rebuked him, stating that she had a commitment to another man, but was overjoyed when the soldier revealed his true identity. In despair, the two older sisters committed suicide, one by noose and one by drowning. The Devil came that night to gloat to the soldier that as suicide is a sin, he received two souls in the end at the cost of losing one. The moral of the story: Satan is a shitlord, seriously.
Both singular NPCs and organizations go here.
Church of the Bayou:
A church of Haitian voudou and Louisiana voodoo worship alike. It is run by Genevieve Rochambeau, an Ageless Voodoo who resembles a beautiful mixed race woman in her 30s but is in fact 110. Rochambeau studied under the famous Marie Laveau, but always hungered for more power than even her teacher was capable of. After Laveau's purported death, Rochambeau began to plot, and created the Church of the Bayou in 1950 with the specific plan of gathering powerful magic under her banner. While only a few members of the Church are Ageless, all know how to perform Conjure, and Rochambeau uses them to aid politicians and law enforcement in Louisiana and Mississippi specifically so that she can have them in her debt if she ever happens to need something later. She and her follows begrudgingly tolerate that there are a lot of Voodoo workers who won't follow the Church of the Bayou, but they will never ignore those that actively work against it, going so far as to sometimes engage in kidnapping and murder.
Black Cat Club:
A group for budding paranormal investigators, the Black Cat Club is mostly a whole bunch of Scooby Doo gangs and wannabee Ghostbusters running around in the dark without any central leadership, since the club's only actual organization is that there is a $20 membership fee paid to its mysterious founder only known by their Internet handle of Mojo Man. Mojo Man's true name is Renee Laroque, and she's a Loup Garou who has never forgiven monster hunters for the murder of her adoptive Hag aunt in 1988. She uses the Black Cat Club to both spread misinformation and – if a group happens to get lucky and stumble across an actual paranormal event – learn more about the movements of other supernatural entities, Ageless, and especially monster hunters. She satisfies the Hunger by killing monster hunters and Black Cat Club members who get too close to the truth.
Children of Abaddon:
One of the most dangerous forces in existence for Ageless of any stripe, the Children of Abaddon are a secret society of deeply devout Christians who also happen to be assassins that take out Ageless, supernatural beings, and human Conjure user alike. They believe they are in a mission from Abaddon, the angel of destruction and the End of Days, and they happen to be right. The question of just what Abaddon is, though, is a bit harder to define. Neither Heaven nor Hell definitively take claim to him, and his motive for spurring on the destruction of the supernatural is unclear. While some claim he is merely the tough cop on the paranormal block, others have suggested that Abaddon is actually attempting to weed out competition against him for when he attempts to stage a takeover of the Spirit World, or possibly even Hell.
Not so much an organization as a classification. An Ancient is an Ageless who has lived a truly long life with great Weariness, so much so that they have given up on trying to influence the world around them. That's not say that they are emotionless drones or anything: they can have plenty of personality and all of them have a whole ton of Conjure power, it's just that they really don't give a shit about actually exercising said power. Three examples of Ancients are given by the text.
was once a powerful Medicine Worker in an African clan that was sold into slavery on a rice plantation. He managed to escape with several other slaves and went to live with the Seminole until they were in turn targeted by the Army, whose guns and numbers were greater than Uncle Monday's Conjure. Ever since, Uncle Monday has lived in the form of an immense alligator that dwells deep in Florida's Lake Maitland, where local Hoodoo Doctors and Medicine Workers come to give him offerings in respect of his power. He has never forgotten his failure, and it is said that one day, when the time is right, he plans to rise up again and help lead the Seminole people to glory.
A white man who learned Conjure from the Gullah people, becoming a powerful Hoodoo Doctor. After faking his own death in the early 1900s, he retired to live in a shack on a swampy, storm-wracked island off the South Carolina coast. All of his needs are serviced by vultures that follow his every command, and anyone who attempts to reach his island without a good reason are attacked mercilessly by the flock.
Railroad Bill was a sort of Southern Robin Hood figure, a strong black man robbing from trains to pawn off to poor families. What the history books don't say is that he was also secretly a Loup Garou, taking on a fox form to quickly get away from the law. Weariness caught up with the railroad bandit, however, and now he almost permanently stays in fox form and lets animal instinct overwhelm his human mind, effectively sleeping in his own body without much worry that his beastly side will ever kill anyone given that it's a fox.
The famous Voodoo queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau was someone who seemed to know everything about everyone. There's a million stories out there about her powerful Conjure working to help those in need and spurn the wicked, and at least some of them are probably true. It's very likely that she would have become an Ancient had she not mysteriously died in 1920, leaving the less than saintly Genevieve Rochambeau as her only heir.
Rare individuals whose hearts are so pure that they are able to perform miracles. A living saint is never Ageless, as they do not strive for immortality. They are also never powerful with Conjure, as they have no desire for strength. You aren't likely to know about any living saints, as they also don't desire wealth or status, and are almost inexorably the humblest people: they're the little old church lady, the diligent and selfless aid worker, or the wise uncle who lives in squalor but never seems to ever want anything greater. Due to their rarity and the fact that they are always pacifists, living saints get no game mechanics, making them more of a plot hook than a character in spite of being described with other NPCs.
Non-supernatural animals native to the South are given brief discussion. The American alligator, cottonmouth, copperhead, black widow spider, brown recluse/fiddleback spider, and black bear are present with stat blocks at the ready in case you ever need a non-supernatural wild threat or a convenient minion for some Ageless with animal control.
Next Time in Hoodoo Blues:
We encounter apemen and the Axeman, nahullo and Night Doctors, hate groups and h'aints, and lots more things that are alliterative when placed side by side. The guide to major cities of the South and their supernatural residents, campaign types, adversaries, monsters and spirits, and a pre-made adventure involving a search for the truth about Marie Laveau are all lined up as we finish up this book.
Chapter 3, Part 2: Southern States; Chapter 4: Adventures
Original SA post
Chapter 3, Part 2: Southern States
I'll be limiting my discussion specifically to the supernatural elements of each state, because everything else is a pretty bog standard discussion of the history and demographics of the members of the Deep South combined with a paragraph each on around a dozen or so cities of note per state.
With loads of forests with hanging trees, creeks used for drownings, and a place literally named Cemetery Mountain, it's not surprising that Alabama is a hotbed for hauntings. The largest cases by sheer numbers are the ghosts of yellow fever victims in the ghost town of Cahaba, the ghostly denizens of the abandoned quarter of the city of Dora, and shadow people that haunt the Mountain View Hospital psychiatrisc ward in Gadsden. Singular specimens of note include a 1960s black Ford pickup truck that appears near the town of Red Level and tries to run cars off the road and the powerful ghost of a Hag who haunts an old rotting house in the depths of Bankhead Forest. There is also a mysterious 20 foot long monster said to dwell in the Coosa River, described variously as a sea serpent, a giant alligator, or an immense catfish.
Georgia in Hoodoo Blues is pretty bland. There's some Hags here and there, as well as ghosts in old Antebellum structures, but not a lot else. The most noteworthy and mysterious specter is that of Rene Ash of Savannah, Georgia. A giant of the early 19th Century, Rene was already a foot taller than most grown men by age 12, and in some tellings of the legend was also particularly hairy. He was a shy boy who was constantly teased by his peers, and typically hid in the Colonial Park Cemetery, where ghoulish grave robbings and the appearance of numerous dead cats with their necks twisted around backwards were quickly attributed to the giant child. Rene would also pick up some of the dead cats to use to gently but disturbingly slap people he disliked, typically girls around his age.
Reports of giant looming shadows being seen in people's windows at night, sometimes accompanied by the rattling of doors, lead the people of Savannah to attempt to drive Rene Ash out of town. His mother instead created a massive brick wall topped with broken glass around her property, the only way in or out being a strong cast iron gate, in an attempt to placate the townsfolk. This worked until a young girl that lived in a neighboring house was found dead in an alley, her head twisted backward like the cats before. Rene's mother once again calmed the angry mob by swearing that her son had been ill during the time of the murder and couldn't leave his bed, at which point the locals gave in but instated a 24/7 guard.
This once again couldn't last, as the house was left unguarded during the great fire of 1820. The day after the fire, yet another girl was found with her neck twisted backwards. Rene's mother couldn't sate the rage of the mob this final time, and her son was lynched and left to hang for days, no one wanting to despoil a hallowed cemetery with a body they were sure was tainted by the greatest evil. Did Rene actually perform the murders, or was he a convenient scapegot that also happened to like slapping people with dead cats? Regardless of the truth, his h'aint still lumbers through the Colonial Park Cemetery he inhabited in life, sometimes making visits to nearby homes to make folks' blood run cold when they see his giant shadow standing outside their window.
The dark depths of our bayous and backwoods are the perfect place for Hags, Loups-Garoux, swamp monsters, ghosts, ghouls, grunches, and any other number of freaky phenomena to hang out, but Louisiana's paranormal scene is mostly focused on New Orleans. While I and other natives of the state may know of other local legends from other portions of the ass-end of the Mississippi River, I don't think anyone is really surprised that New Orleans gets all the attention, both here and in many works before. It was the city of Marie Laveau, and to this day remains the largest center of Louisiana Voodoo belief. It was where the Axeman, a gaunt man dressed all in black who wrote a strangely erudite letter claiming he was actually a foul spirit from the depths of Hell, used his namesake weapon to commit grisly murders and terrify the city's populace throughout the 1910s. It's home to a gamut of ghosts, from the victims of the sadistic Madame LaLaurie and those that succumbed to the yellow fever epidemics to spirits of Civil War soldiers and phantasmal buses. And, of course, there's Mardi Gras, where revelry in the dead of night could act as cover for beings of the shadows to do their dirty work.
A place where thick forests coat gently rolling hills across much of the state, Mississippi is one of the greatest strongholds for woodland spirits. It also has Hags and Loups-Garoux in its swampier regions such as the Louisiana border, ghosts (because where
there ghosts?), and a surprisingly strong Medicine Worker tradition as opposed to the more common Hoodoo Doctors of most states. Mississippi also has one of the largest Crossroader populations, thanks almost entirely to Robert Johnson and his popularization of the Crossroader practice through his songs and stories. There is also the Witches' Dance, an area of dead or dying forest near Tupelo, Mississippi, that Hags from all over the South come to meet.
Hags in the Gullah country, ghosts otherwise. Lots of ghosts. Ghosts, ghosts, ghosts. One ghost is a disfigured man with three eyes that haunst the University of South Carolina. What's his story? I want to know that guy's story. There's also the Wedgefield Dragoon, who is an American Revolution-era headless ghost that is kind of pathetic because he doesn't get preternatural sight like most ghost stories about headless phantoms, so he just wallows around trying desperately to find where the hell he is.
Chapter 4: Adventures
Types of Adventure
Adventuring in Hoodoo Blues typically falls into the category of either trying to fix someone else's problems or fix your own problems. They may have different overall themes – slay a monster, put a ghost to rest, find and stop some bad Conjure, seek redemption from God – but they ultimately all call back to the fact that you are meant to be playing someone who is flawed but still trying to do right by the world. While there are specific descriptions of just what you might do for an adventure about being modern Van Helsings or helping Old Lady Mayhew and her gravely ill son or what have you, there are two really big notes here that concern turning the game on its face.
The first of these are flashback adventures. This assumes that while you are playing the game in either the modern day or some other specific time period, you might want to have a session or two where your Ageless reminisce on an earlier time they were all together in their immortal lives. Mechanically, this means that for the course of that adventure they get replacement equipment for any anachronistic gear (there's a whole list of flashback replacement gear for each decade to speed this process up), they don't have access to any skills that wouldn't be relevant in the flashback (no ranks of Internet Research in the 1940s, no Electronics in the 1820s, etc.), and their Weariness is turned back. While primarily meant to be a change of pace or further insight into the characters' motivations, flashback adventures can also have actual plot repercussions: the flashback reminds the Ageless of some treasure they found during the flashback adventure and forgot until just now, for instance.
The second is non-Ageless play. If you happen to be a supernatural being that ended up not being Ageless, like a Crossroader who wasn't smart enough to ask for immortality or a Hoodoo Doctor that didn't make a special mojo bag of agelessness, it's as simple as removing the Decades and Motivations steps of character creation. A completely mundane human character skips those steps
doesn't get any character class. Mundane characters get Arts, Book-Learning, Labor, and Modern classification skills for dirt cheap, but have the obvious drawback of being unable to take any Conjure skills or advantages/disadvantages tied directly to the supernatural. Maybe it's just me, but I think it might be good to have at least some in-between that doesn't force the character class but allows for Conjure learning, for your New Age tradition-unaffiliated rootworkers or your "know a bit of ritual Conjure but only use it if talking and shooting don't work" Sam and Dean Winchester types. That isn't here, though, so I guess that's ultimately up to the player and the GM.
Diabolists aren't Satanists in the modern sense, LaVeyan or otherwise. No, these guys know the Devil is real, and they worship him in spite of the fact that they know the kind of viciousness and evil he is capable of. The book equates them to those who follow fascist ideology specifically in hopes that they don't get the jackboot on their throats later. They engage in various singuar acts of evil in rural locations, as the Devil prefers subtlety over overtness due to the fact that acts of outright genocide and terror often lead as many to faith as it does to damnation.
A haggard old white man who wears stereotypical doctor's garb, the Doctor experimented on black people in poor neighborhoods at the turn of the last century, and eventually found the secret of immortality through a combination of medical practice and occult rituals. Ever since, he has become a unique form of Ageless with great Strength and Speed, as well as the ability to make himself invisible. While he once came in the dead of night, he now steals blood by setting up shop in rural clinics, drugging his patients, and then later claiming they fainted when they inevitably come around with less blood than they came in with (sometimes enough that they end up dying of anemia later). He then uses some of this blood to keep himself Ageless and sells the rest – which is enchanted to have great healing powers but not the miraculous properties his own doses do, of course – to wealthy buyers. While not explicitly stated, the Doctor is clearly drawn from the late 19th and early 20th Century folklore of the Night Doctors, mysterious white men who were said to come to black communities and steal away people to perform ghastly experiments.
The KKK, neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, the Christian Identity movement, skinheads, and black separatists all get covered here. It is noted that while Ageless don't really have anything to fear from hate groups given how ridiculous their powers tend to be, there are enough with bad blood involving hate groups that they'll go looking for a metaphorical or literal fight. Some may even have been hate group members in the past and have spent the decades since then looking for redemption.
The Devil really loved the whole Eden incident, so much that he laughed himself apart into a physical and spiritual form. That's how the story goes, at least, and the graveyard snakes are said to be the remnants of his physical Serpent half. Graveyard snakes resemble rattlesnakes that are black with yellow splotches, and are only found in cemeteries at night. In spite of their purported diabolical origins, graveyard snakes mainly just want to be left alone, but are smart enough to actively target undefended parts of the body if they are forced to attack. The main reason for conflict is almost invariably the fact that Conjure workers often hunt graveyard snakes for their numerous magical properties. A graveyard snake's skin worn as a sash grants a +5 to any opposing contest roll, its greasy innards grant a +20 to Sleight of Hand if rubbed on the hands, its oil grants a +20 to any harmful Hand if added to the recipe, baking its grease into flour and making an effigy out of the mixture lets you cause moderate difficulty Distracting Pain to whoever the effigy is meant to represent by harming the effigy, and its rattle summons the Devil.
Raw Head and Bloody Bones:
Also known as Bloody Bones or Tommy Rawhead, this monster was once a large pig named Raw Head. Raw Head was owned by an elderly Conjure woman living out in the Ozarks, who treated the big boar as her only friend. While everyone in that wooded valley knew Raw Head belonged to the Conjure woman, a poacher from out of town came and slew the pig one day. The furious Conjure woman used necromantic power to resurrect Raw Head's blood-soaked bones into a horrific monster. The skeletal boar walked on his hind legs and gathered parts from other slain animals, taking the teeth of a panther, claws of a bear, and tail of a beaver, then took his time stalking and taunting the poacher with a raspy human voice in the dead of night. Eventually, after he was finally tired of playing with his prey, Raw Head and Bloody Bones killed and ate the poacher. If you're brave enough, you can summon him for yourself, presumably to utilize his 30 Endurance and Strength to rend your foes asunder.
The Raven Mockers, or kalona in the Cherokee language are vicious beings that can take the form of an elderly Cherokee or a giant raven. They seek any nearby indicators of death, coming swiftly to engage with dying individuals. If the individual is in a hospital, their bed, or otherwise not alone, the Raven Mocker clouds the vision of others, only showing itself to the dying individual. It sits on their chest and throws barrages of taunts and insults at them as it presses further and further down on their lungs, savoring the victim's suffering in their last moments. If a Raven Mocker finds a lone victim in the wilderness it is even more merciless, gouging out their eyes and batting them around with its robust wings and wickedly sharp talons. It will even let victims seemingly escape only to attack once more, or lie and offer them mercy before going back on the assault.
Abandoning a baby in the bayou is a bad idea. This should probably go without saying, but apparently some people still do it, and if they aren't baptized they are taken in and nurtured by alligators as they transform into monsters known as letiche. Letiche are reptilian humanoids with the teeth, webbed hands and feet, and scales of an alligator, and while some interpretations have them being giants or human-sized, Hoodoo Blues has them forever stuck at around 3 to 4 feet even as they reach adulthood. In spite of their size, however, they have a Strength of 25, making them more than strong enough to overwhelm humans and even most Ageless, dragging them under the water and pinning them in an attempt to drown them.
Pale, raven-haired beauties that happen to be half fish, mermaids haunt the Gulf of Mexico and sometimes swim up into the estuaries of the mighty Mississippi. They call to men of the sea, asking them to throw one of their own into the sea. Refusal means that the mermaids will use their ridiculous 40 Strength to rip the seamen's boat to shreds...assuming it's a smaller wooden boat, of course. Mermaids have difficulty with modern ships since they are a lot larger, made out of metal, and propellers hurt. Assuming that a mermaid gets a man, she drags him under with prehensile hair. No one is sure what the fate of men taken by the mermaids actually is. Are they eaten? Sexed up in an underwater kingdom? Used as fancy meat trophies? The world may never know.
South Carolina Lizard Man:
Also known as the Bishopville Lizard Man, Hoodoo Blues takes this rather one-note cryptid (that note being 'Reptoid thing that claws at people at vehicles') and gives it an actual backstory. The Lizard Man was once a regular old man, specifically a young and arrogant occultist who attempted to apprentice himself to a Hag in order to learn the secret of Agelessness. His shit-headed nature lead her to hate him, and she gave him his desired immortality in the worst way. He can no longer speak, read, write, or even think all that well: all he knows is that he is furious at his cursed nature, and he takes it out on anyone who happens to be unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity of the swamp when he's out wandering.
Honey Island Swamp Monster:
Honey Island swamp monsters, also known as Southern Bigfoot and skunk apes, are 7 to 9 foot tall primates with filthy gray fur, three-toed and webbed feet, a horrible stench, and an even more horrible temper. They are vicious nocturnal predators that use their long arms to grapple prey before latching their two large fangs into the throat for a killing bite. While deer are swamp monsters' favored prey, they are more than capable of killing and eating feral hogs, alligators, and humans. As if being a nocturnal, bipedal, carnivorous primate wasn't unique enough, swamp monsters are also amphibious, sometimes hiding under the water and lunging at prey on the shore. Their big weakness is that they're scared of fire and bright lights, so keep those lanterns handy.
Kowi Anukasha ("Little Forest People"):
The kowi anukasha are 2 foot tall woodland sprites that look and dress like elderly Native American Medicine Workers. They are great performers and teachers of Conjure, stealing away human children with a gift for the arcane arts or training adults that placate them with gifts of food and gems. While the kowi anukasha are frequent pranksters, throwing pine cones or making strange noises in the woods at night, it's probably best to avoid offending them given that they can cast a Conjure that paralyzes your legs for nearly a week.
Okwa Naholo ("White People of the Water"):
Slender people with all black eyes and skin colored "the white of a trout's belly". No one's quite sure what these guys' deal is, as they typically hide by burrowing in mud or crawling into reeds whenever people are around, only coming out and doing whatever it is they do when they are alone. Okwa naholo have an extreme amount of hatred for fishermen, who they will attempt to drag under the water and drown. Being drowned by an okwa naholo causes you to become an okwa naholo yourself rather than die.
Great horned owls that are as tall as a man, with an impressive 20 foot wingspan to boot. They are mostly just big predatory owls, save for two special traits. First off, they are capable of emitting a supersonic scream that forces a DC 20 roll against Shocking Pain, allowing them to stun prey such as deer or humans. Second, they are only harmed by silver weapons or Conjure.
Nahullo are big, angry brutes that resemble a Neanderthal increased in size to be up to 9 feet tall. They were once more widespread, but wars with various Native American nations have pushed the nahullo into the deepest forests and swamps. They only appear to pillage and kidnap slaves, using giant clubs to crush the skulls of those who fight back. Nahullo are immune to metal weaponry, though any other material works just fine.
Ghosts, manifestations, and other phantasmal entities. Spirits replace have Awareness, Charisma, and Intelligence, but replace all of their other primary attributes and health attributes with a single attribute known as Power. This reflects the spirit's ability to affect the world around it, how strongly it is tethered to the mortal realm, and its strength of will when dealing with Conjure such as Christian Exorcism or Compel Spirits. The following spirits are the most common.
are like Hags taken to the ultimate level. They don't Ride to live, they Ride to gain even more Power, and they have no skin to be tethered to. They also don't take any kind of precautions when it comes to feasting on prey, usually Riding the same human again and again until they die. If a nightmare takes a tangible form, it is of either a beautiful woman or a panther.
are the most unfortunate of the undead, forever trapped between Heaven and Hell without the ability to go to either. They wander the swamp in a dimly aware stupor, waving their lanterns in a desperate attempt to find their way out of their own personal nightmare. A Jack-o-lantern's lantern forces a Willpower save (DC 30) to avoid following it. Turning all of your pockets inside out or sticking a knife in the ground are ways to keep a Jack-o-lantern at bay.
throw shit around in ethereal temper tantrums, specifically to cause fear that they then proceed to feed on. The fact that poltergeists often come to sites of other paranormal activity means that they are often mistaken for far more dangerous entities such as h'aints or vice versa.
are psychic after-images of a traumatic event. They replay their moment of horror over and over again at specific times, never actually interacting with the living since they don't actually have any intellect behind them.
, on the other hand, are the manifestations of unfulfilled desires that linger on even after the soul proper has departed for the afterlife. While most longings perform ultimately harmless acts, some may accidentally injure the living or have malicious desires that endanger those around them.
are all the negative emotions of a person congealed into one hateful and violent ghost. The more ill-willed the person was, the more Power their h'aint has, and the h'aint of something like a Hag is truly a terror to behold. H'aints can shapeshift into various forms to confuse or terrify their victims, short out electronics, burn or chill with their touch, or simply enact physical violence.
are spirits from Hell. Those who have the Sight can see the demon for what it truly is, a grotesque and pathetic imp that only holds power by manipulating humans. Specifically, a demon crawls up into a human's consciousness and nudges at their subconsciousness, trying to urge them to engage in gradually more and more sinful acts.
are not technically monsters, but since they are listed with the spirits they're getting covered with them. A Thin Place is more or less a reminder on a grand scale, an entire event rather than a single person that has formed a psychic echo that relays itself. Unlike reminders, however, the denizens of a Thin Place can actually harm or even kill, making them dangerous if you are unlucky enough to stumble into one. Making things even worse is that h'aints and demons are drawn to Thin Places like moths to a flame, and they are more than happy to add to the "fun" of being in a snapshot of the past.
There are two sample adventures present at the very end of the book, both to give an overview of some of the things you can do in Hoodoo Blues and to give some jumping off points for GMs to use.
This sample adventure puts the characters on a grand treasure hunt for Denmark's Hand, a powerful piece of Conjure in an amulet said to make the wearer invincible. The hunt takes them from the slums of post-Katrina New Orleans to the mountain country of northeast Mississippi, where they become trapped in between the conflict of a remorseful ex-Klansman and his far less than remorseful neighbor, as well as a very angry Hoodoo Doctor who has been slowly dying since he was lynched in 1969 but unable to finally pass away thanks to the amulet.
Beauregard T. Hawthorne III is an old and powerful Hoodoo Doctor from the Anglo-descended gentry who has contacted the heroes with a rather startling revelation - he believes that Marie Laveau, the famous Voodoo queen, is alive and hiding somewhere near an old plantation in Georgia called the Sandy Pines. What they end up finding is trap after trap, from h'aints and an intentionally manifested Thin Place of a Civil War battle to unusually aggressive graveyard snakes and foul Conjure. In the end, it is revealed that all of these were traps set by Marie Laveau herself, who has been reduced to a literal ghost of her former self. The treacherous Genevieve Rochambeau murdered Laveau in 1920, enslaving her spirit until very recently when she managed to escape thanks to Rochambeau's arrogance outweighing her sense. Their find puts the heroes at direct odds with Beauregard T. Hawthorne III (who has been hiding that he has a grudge over a rivalry he had with Marie Laveau when she was alive) and at long-term odds with Genevieve Rochambeau, neither of whom are Ageless you want to get on the bad side of.
Nothing spices up an urban fantasy or horror setting like using actual legends and folk beliefs, especially lesser known or localized ones. Hoodoo Blues takes that to its greatest extent, and it manages to feel somehow fresher than a lot of completely invented modern supernatural fiction as a result. Not only that, but it's also one of the few games set in the Deep South that doesn't attempt any attempt at revisionism of our less than stellar past and present. If anything, there are a few points where it is
-emphasized, getting mentioned when it might not necessarily be relevant or has already been discussed previously. There are also a few moments where the fact that you have a white suburban Buddhist Oregonite writing about the poor rural South and its often black population leak through, but they are again very rare and typically easily missed.
If anything, I can imagine the problem most people might have with Hoodoo Blues would be its game system. In spite of the ORC system having its own name and fancy logo, it can't escape the specter of the fact that it is derived from the d20 system, and I know d20 systems can be a make or break deal for certain folks around here. Fortunately, there's so much flavor text and conceptual backbone that I don't think it would be that hard to translate Hoodoo Blues as a setting into FATE, PBtA, GURPS, World of Darkness, or whatever you happen to favor as your system of choice.
Hoodoo Blues: it's good, and also I'm not sure how the people who wrote it also wrote something as disparate in quality as In Dark Alleys.