Design Journal: Elohim


And let's make them REALLY creepy...
And let’s make them REALLY creepy…

One of the many things I’ve been trying to get off the ground in the last two years, more like three, is the Gnosis RPG. It’s a new game system and campaign setting designed to be gritty, dangerous, and easy to play and set up. The campaign world is the modern world, except it’s really not. See, all those conspiracy theories about rock music being a tool of Satanic cults, or that NASA is hiding aliens in Area 51, or that big businesses are really a front for an ancient conspiracy to rule the world after they kill most of the human population, are actually true.

Yup. Every. Last. One.

Magic is real. Science is being held back. Aliens are constantly trying to invade. Religion is a front. Tin foil hats really DO protect your brain from the spy satellites. And if you try hard enough, you can become the thing the monsters fear, become a monster yourself, or start your own conspiracy.

mocking conspiracy theories by jonathanlerner13 on DeviantArt

One of the things I wanted to do with this setting, though, was to give everything a “real-world” explanation, even if it involved fringe science or a stretch of what science said was allowed. Clearly, conservation of energy, momentum, and all those silly physics laws prevent pretty much all of this from existing, but by minimizing or at least giving some semblance of explanation, even if it’s flimsy, the game seems just a little more real. Respecting established science is one of the best ways to come up with a setting that feels fantastic yet plausible.

Take, for example, the simple matter of angels and demons.

I say simple in the same way that designing the space shuttle from scratch is simple.

I wanted to bring religious horror to Gnosis, and the idea of demonic possession and even angels as alien beings far removed from the fluffy-winged images of modern society appealed to me greatly. They would form two sides of one of the major conspiracies in the game’s universe. However, how to make them semi-realistic or at least sound plausible?

Firstly, I needed to figure out what was an angel and what was a demon.

I quickly settled on the idea that both angels and demons were not so different. In fact, in many myths, demons are fallen angels. That being said, perhaps the difference between both is more philosophical than physical. In that case, I needed a new name for this new creature and settled on the Elohim and that the titles of “angels” and “demons” were just one of the many cloaks they wore when seeking worship, an act that fed them psychic energy. The name is the ancient Hebrew name of God, and I figured a race of beings that present themselves as gods and divine beings would certainly approve of.

Angel or Demon by Reilune on DeviantArt

The most common ability both angels and demons seem to have is the ability to communicate with people despite not being in the same room, so telepathy is a must. Possession is also popular, more so for demons that angels, so that needs to get rolled in there. Barring that, what’s left?

Angels are often described as warriors, but the original texts describe them as beings that would not be out of place in a Lovecraftian horror story. They are supposedly massive, alien, and powerful. To even look at an angel is to invite death and destruction. In other words, their true form might not even be possible to have in-game. Demons are also usually described as horrific, so again there is some common ground between both camps of Elohim.

Of course, maybe the shapes and wild visions of angels and demons in the old texts are not real images, but rather hallucinations and deceit. Maybe Elohim wanted to appear as huge imposing wheels of fire and titanic beasts covered in a thousand eyes. Maybe this is part of how they bring worshippers to their side, and how, as demons, they torture others. Illusions, then, would be another power to have, but just letting them have the power of illusion is too broad. Maybe they can specifically alter the mood of those who see them in order to inspire fear. In high enough doses, that fear could manifest as visions of giant monsters. Consider how someone who is arachnophobic, for example, might see a tiny spider as a beast the size of a horse. Is this power psychic? Hormonal?

Bloodwind Angel by DreadJim on DeviantArt

That brings up the next aspect. Should Elohim even have physical bodies? Making them flesh and blood makes them real, but it also makes them supremely vulnerable. It also makes things like possession more difficult. How to justify a physical being entering and overlapping with another living creature’s body and mind? That pesky mass has to go somewhere right? Making the Elohim energy or gas or something similar would then make more sense.

But what about a compromise? Maybe Elohim are physical beings, but their effects on this world are entirely psychic. The only way they can communicate is through telepathy, providing a conduit for their powers to present themselves as gods and demons. This would also provide a path for the power of possession. Maybe they don’t exactly “possess” a person, but rather use people as puppets, and the sheer mental power from the angel or demon mind is enough to grant the possessed some powers of their own. If they ever actually crossed over into our world, though, then the physical aspects would come into play.

So what are the Elohim like physically? What would our heroes need to fight if these beings ever actually crossed into our reality?

They need to be tough. Very tough. Rhino-hide tough. Small caliber weapons should bounce off them and nothing short of an assault rifle with armor-piercing bullets, or maybe a bundle of C4, should faze them. Humanoid? Maybe, but at least in the sense that Elohim will have legs, arms, a torso, and a head. The proportions should be suitably alien, as should the face. In keeping with the disturbing aspect to the uncanny valley, the face should be somewhat human but alien in minor aspects, certainly the eyes, but also in the placement of features. The skin would likely vary in shade between different Elohim, but that’s a detail I can’t quite place yet. I am, however, a fan of the general color scheme of the angel in the Masters of Horror episode “Cigarette Burns.”

Wings? Maybe, but not bird-like wings, or if they are bird-like, they should be large, powerful, and convey the image that this creature is a killer, a warrior, and certainly not a messenger with fluffy wings. The Elohim would need to be big, too, maybe as ten or twelve feet tall, in order to truly convey the power of an angel or demon from hell. They’re basically going to be organic tanks, super-strong, and with enough psychic power to make people fear them on sight. Most of their interactions with the world will be through their “possessed” victims, and once they actually manage to cross over… things get interesting.

Tentative image for the rulebook!

Figuring out the mechanics is another matter, but at least having a solid image is enough to get going.

Next? Ghosts!

In the meantime, enjoy the feeling of having your imagination bring you real adventure…

Two Views of the End Times

Okay, first person to make an REM joke gets it in the ear.

September 13, 2011

As we all know, the world will end in about twenty-five months. It’s going to be awesome. Fire, earthquakes, and possibly God himself coming down and smiting everything and everyone. Of course, given that doomsday predictions have a horrible tract record, I think I’ll stay home and just watch some movies instead.

Of course, nothing is more appropriate for a fake end of the world than some cinematic or even literary end of the world. Let’s take a look at some of my favorites.

The Xeelee Sequence by ~ChosenOne54 on deviantART

Stephen Baxter: The Xeelee Sequence

There’s epic science fiction, and then there’s EPIC science fiction.

You think Star Wars thinks big with its galaxy-wide empire? Think Andromeda was uber-powerful with its depiction of bombs that could make stars explode?

Baxter not only has an alien species that has HAND-HELD guns that can make stars explode, but the species that created them uses galaxy CLUSTERS as little more than bricks in their projects that span quite literately from the beginning of time, and perhaps even longer than that.

In this world, humanity is mostly confined to the Solar system, but a few thousand years from now, we discover that the Xeelee, who are so powerful they probably keep Cthulhus like we keep sea monkeys, are at war with an equality powerful alien species made of dark matter. This dark matter life form, the photino birds, need stable, star-sized gravity wells to live, so they are accelerating the lifetime of stars and forcing them to explode or fizzle out.

Every star.


In the known universe.

Suffice to say, the impending death of all physical life cycles in the universe is not going to end well for humanity.

The series is set within several dozen short stories and a few novels, my favorite being Ring, which ends the saga, yet could easily be read as a stand-alone novel. The short story collection Vacuum Diagrams fills in a lot of gaps and shows a smaller parallel storyline of the end of time. Like the rest of Baxter’s work, expect paragraphs of scientific explanation, but also some impressive loop-hole jumping through the laws of physics.

What a Feminist Looks Like by ~ugochick on deviantART

Masters of Horror: The Screwfly Solution

Joe Dante has gone across the film spectrum as far as I’m concerned. Yes, he directed Gremlins and Homecoming, but he also directed Looney Tunes: Back in Action. I don’t take kindly to new Looney Tunes.

However, his entry into the Masters of Horror collection, based on the short story by Alice Sheldon, is creepy on a level I had not through possible.

We begin with what appears to be a murder committed by some lone psycho. He killed every female member of his family. As time passes, religious fundamentalists are on the rise throughout much of the world and women are viewed more and more as agents of sin. Soon, though, a group of scientists makes the shocking discovery: there is a disease that is causing the sexual and aggressive centers of the male brain to short-circuit, turning any sexual desire into a homicidal urge.

Despite the ending being one huge WTF moment, the rest of the episode manages to be utterly scary. You don’t know how the disease travels. You don’t know who’s infected. Any sign of anger could be a symptom, or just stress and nerves as the lead scientist, a devoted family, tries to find a cure. He’s quite, and painfully aware, that he is a potential killer.

Any man is a potential killer.

The scariest part, though, is the slow realization that those feelings that are being exploited to wipe out humanity are not some superbug. All it took was one chemical switch, and the men who kill every woman in sight aren’t blind, raving lunatics ala 28 Days Later. They are calm and rational about it. God, Allah, or whatever they believe in justifies it.

This is true horror. The horror of everyday life. It’s the  horror of not knowing if your neighbor is going to kill you.

It’s the horror of knowing he’ll do it with a smile.

Apocalypse by ~Crosseyed-Chameleon on deviantART

So there you go. Two apocalypses for your viewing and reading pleasure. One is a multiverse-spanning swath of destruction that leaves reality a cold, bleak cinder, and the other is a psychological romp through the dark corners in all our minds.

Sweet dreams.