Friday, August 6, 2010

Aaron Alston's THE BLOOD (1985)

I've discussed my troubled relationship with Champions before so no need to rehearse it.  Nonetheless, there were some fine products put out by Hero Games back in the day and those of Aaron Allston tend to hover at the top of my list.  I had a heck of a lotta fun with his Super-Agents book and his Lands of Mystery supplement may still be the best gaming treatment of the Lost World Romance (he also wrote a lot of good stuff for other companies as well).  But, far and away, my favourite Hero work of his was his half of Organization Book No. 2: The Blood and Dr. McQuark (although, Allston's portion is more like the first two-thirds in terms of page count).

The Blood are a group of super-powered, extraterrestrial mutants who are not nearly as goofy as that may sound.  Actually, the Blood are very much informed by things like Zelazny's royal family of Amber and Lee-Kirby's the Inhumans.  They are the descendants of a paleolithic hunter who was born with psychic powers, a mutant named Azor.  This old fellow used his powers to assume control of his tribe and then used his tribe to take over a neighboring tribe.  And so on and so on.  But, pretty soon, this neaderthalic Genghis Khan had reached the limits of Stone Age empire; without the agricultural revolution you just can't keep very many people in one place without starving. 

Azor's lust for power knew no bounds, though, and he soon made psychic contact with fearful, pre-human, chthonic entities who had been trapped for uncounted ages under the earth and in sunken cities and if you can't figure out who these folk may be then you fail at Weird Fiction 101. These foul beings granted Azor much increased power in exchange for a vow to find some way to release them from their eons-long bondage.  With his new powers, Azor then opened up a portal to a new world and took his tribe with him. 

There, they quickly spread out and advanced at a much faster rate of material culture development than their cousins back on Earth.  It turned out that Azor's powers tended to be carried to his off-spring, who gave them to their off-spring and so on.  These powers usually included teleportation, telepathy, "see through vision" (that name cracks me up, I must admit), greatly enhanced life-spans, and often bat-shit insanity (although you really gotta expect little drawbacks like that when accepting presents from the Great Old Ones).  Those with the power were "of the blood of Azor" and these blooded folk became the natural aristocracy.  Earth was forgotten during this period.

Flash forward some 20,000 years and a family of Bloods find their way to Earth in the 1920's.  They look upon this world as one giant play-ground for their own, idiosyncratic pleasures.  They split up and wander the world, learning what the want and generally taking what they want too.  Some of them eventually have children with earth humans and some of these carry the Blood.  So we end up with at least three generations of the family on earth somewhere at present (if the present is still 1985).

Now some of these folks are pretty decent types (albeit with a slight tendency toward insanity) and some are absolute monsters, but they are a family.  So when the psychopathic, megalomaniac Affrighter turns up to steal his siblings' babies (it's just kinda what he does), a brawl doesn't immediately break out.  He and his relative will probably exchange greetings, tell each other what they've been up to for the past few decades, maybe exchange some gossip about other members of the family, and then the brawl breaks out.

There is a lot more packed into those 18 pages - I didn't even get to the part about Bloodletter, who is a sort of creepy riff on Dr. Fate -  but I think that all the above gets the idea across.  I love the potential for stories that the Blood provide.  You can play with ancient mysteries, using Azor's origin as a jumping off place; Lovecraftian horror; political bickering; alternate dimension fantasies; family drama; and on and on.  I've wanted to run an all-Blood game for years, where the players are all third- (or maybe fourth-) generation Blood, born on earth and unaware of their heritage, who get pulled into family squabbling and danger and have to figure out what the hell is going on and how they can use their new powers to protect themselves. 

And yet...

And yet just look at those stat blocks (if you don't have the book, which is somewhat rare, imagine you can look at those stat blocks).  It's amazing to me that I can still make sense out of them after all these years but I guess Champions is indelibly imprinted upon my brain.  But what a mess!  In that previous post, I discussed how much I hated the "mini-game" of character creation in Champions, especially the game of picking out Disadvantages.  The sort of thing I was complaining about there is on full display here.  

Allston apparently liked Vulnerabilities more than my group because every singly character has at least one, but - and here's the point - for no discernible reason.  For example, Blade is one of the tougher and nicer members of the family with maybe more than a passing resemblance to Corwin of Amber (among other things, he has an amnesia story and a heroic son).  Blade is much stronger than anyone else in the family and is a demon with weapons.  And he takes 2x STUN from gas.  Yep: gas.  I can't even figure out what that Vulnerability is supposed to represent other than a way to get another 10 points of Disads.  There is certainly nothing in Blade's write-up to indicate that he has weak lungs or something; knock-out gas just works real good on him.

This same thing appears across all the other Bloods: Pathfinder takes 2X STUN from illusions,  Sabre takes 2x STUN from energy killing attacks, Sala takes 2x STUN from bullets (?!), Affrighter takes 2x STUN from magic; Bloodletter takes 2x STUN from flame, and Gran'pappy Azor takes 1.5x STUN from light-based attacks.  See the theme here? There is no frickin' theme except the game of "how can get some more points?"  Man, I just can't stand these kinds of game systems any more.

I have been thinking a lot about the Blood in the last 24 hours.  That's because I finally found a copy of the book and got to look at it last night for the first time in two decades.  I immediately began to think of things that I would change in the back-story.  Azor's deal with not-Cthlhulu doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense as written nor does the ban on travel to earth.  I'm also not crazy about the mixing of the mutant powers of the Blood with sorcery and would rather have them be part of the same thing.  That would involve re-writing Azor's background so that he only gets his powers once he conjures the evil beings.  And finally (well, not finally, but finally for this little list), I don't quite like the "typical" array of Blood powers; I'd rather redo those too.

None of that should suggest that The Blood isn't a good book.  It really, really is.  My addiction to re-writing things doesn't mean that the original is bad.  Even before I got this book again, I had put in Heroes of Industry a group of beings that fill a similar niche ("the Ultra"), although with more of Kirby's Eternals thrown into the mix as well.  It's interesting seeing how much I remembered of the Blood and how much somebody's game work could influence me thirty-five years later.  My hat is off to you, Mr. Allston.

Bonus Goody:
Here's my write-up for the Blood Meta-Power in HoI terms.  I would use this as representative of a "typical" Blood.  Important characters would probably have the Meta-Power at higher rank and get  some unique, "sport" power (Like Sala's power to create earthquakes or Affrighter's fear-power).

Blood Powers (Incredible +4 Meta-Power, Vulnerability to Magic, Limitation: Powers won't affect those protected against the Old Ones, Required Quality: Violent Temper)
- Super-Strength
- Super-Endurance
- Telepathy
- Teleportation
[all sub-powers at Good +1 Rank]


  1. God ma, I read HoI as HoL - the game that was never meant to be played but was one hell of a read. I need some sleep.

  2. You know, I have noticed before that the capital "I" looks a helluva lot like an "l" and thus makes it look like I'm referencing that other game.

    Maybe I'd better use a different short-hand reference. :)

  3. Yes, the Blood is quite amazing (Dr. McQuark is not bad either but not in the same league). One of my players back in the day played one of the 3rd/4th gen Blood who finally defeated Affrighter in one of the climaxes of the campaign. Good sourcebook though I have not looked at it in ages, think I still have a copy somewhere.

  4. I hadn't looked at it for 20 years and was amazed at how much I remembered. I always liked that Affrighter had such a high BODY score that you could mangle him up pretty good and he'd keep on coming.