Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Mythical Joop van Ooms

The Magnificent Joop van Ooms is indeed a magnificent book. I use the black market rules all the time, and the titular NPC and his friends are fun to run. This is probably my favorite kind of RPG book: it's not a boring-but-necessary rulebook or a single-use adventure, but rather just a setting book full of neat, usable ideas and adventure hooks and cool stuff. "Setting book" might even be a misleading term among those who often find themselves bored by long-winded treatises on the demographics of a fantasy world, although this book certainly does present a setting. It's more of a toolbox, I guess.

Since I'm sure everyone who uses the strange, central NPC of the book plays him differently, I figured I might as well share some notes on my personal version of him.

(As a quick aside, I've previously shared some thoughts about avoiding the DMPC trap in THIS post. Based on feedback from my players, I think I've avoided overshadowing them with NPCs like Joop so far. I guess the trick is twofold: have your powerful NPCs give players things to do instead of fixing everything for them, and don't take it personally if the players want to do bad things to your NPCs.)

The Joop that Came to Tandem

Years ago, Joop van Ooms decided to try his hand at a new literary genre after getting frustrated with a poem he was writing. He soon penned an erotically-charged and highly symbolic novella called The Decimation of 49 Days. The instant he finished what he believed would be the final, polished draft, his house was whisked away to another world, with himself and his two friends/servants inside.

Well, at least now Joop knows one more thing his powers can do.

He found himself in the city of Tandem, in the Cath Bruig Empire. Strangely, the majority of the people he met acted as if he had always been a resident of the city, and he was as famous here as he was in Amsterdam. It was convenient, but disconcerting.

The investigations of those few who did not suffer from the delusion of a shared history with Ooms, along with Joop's own tentative inquiries into the nature of this new world, eventually attracted the attention of the Emperor and his Avatara. A member of the Avatara named Frinabus Opyshan took the lead in negotiating between all parties involved - he was slightly less paranoid and withdrawn back then. He helped the Emperor secure Joop's allegiance, which is to say that he made sure Joop would generally avoid disturbing the peace or causing any revolts or catastrophes with either his powers or his celebrity influence. He even managed to convince Joop that doing the occasional favor for the Empire using his powers would be the right thing to do, for the good of the populace. In exchange, Joop would get to keep his privacy and his head, with little to fear from the authorities (supposedly).

In truth, Joop and Frinabus became close friends, and then for a long time, lovers. This was an open secret. Ooms even went through a rare bout of monogamy with Frinabus. But eventually, they had a heated and mutually-painful breakup. They managed to remain distant friends, or at least allies, once things cooled down, but they have grown distant over the years.

Officially, the Imperial government denies that Joop has any abilities other than those of a regular mage. Everyone who knows what Joop can do agrees that any greater details could alarm the public, and besides, Joop likes to have control over which details about his life become part of his public persona and which stay hidden. He is less forthcoming about personal matters than he used to be.

Joop spends his time in Tandem doing what he did in Amsterdam: making art, studying and experimenting with science, building strange houses and public buildings, corresponding with/ criticizing/making fun of other artists and inventors and celebrities, putting on plays, making money he doesn't need, donating money to various causes, throwing and attending parties, drinking, doing drugs, having sex, and secretly engaging in social engineering, either on behalf of the Emperor (reluctantly) or as part of his own inscrutable plans.

At first, Joop actually liked this new world better than Earth, once he got past his annoyance at having to collaborate with the government. There were less taboos and more tolerance, magic was a widely-known and accepted phenomenon (either enthusiastically or begrudgingly, depending on who you talked to), there were less artistic rivals, leading to an even greater appreciation for his artistic genius than what he received in Europe (although he vehemently denies, even to himself, that he would ever prefer less competition), and hell, even the streets were cleaner for some reason.

But Joop quickly soured on his new home. On Earth, he could be fairly open about his powers because no one would believe him, but here, magic was so common that he paradoxically had to hid himself under the proverbial bushel. He used to be able to let people think he was joking when he claims to be able to paint things into existence or travel through time. He didn't have to lie about himself; he just had to let people keep their false impressions of him. Now he is beginning to feel paranoid. He resents being controlled and used by the Emperor, and is afraid of becoming the weapon of an oppressive government. Sure, they mostly have him providing emergency supplies to people in need or disposing of dangerous magical artifacts, but how long will it be before they try to force him to do something morally distasteful in the name of securing their power?

And that's not all. There are people on Earth he misses, some of whom he would even admit to missing. The widespread magic that he first found wonderful he now views as the cause of as many problems as it solves. (He even had his friend Gilles de Rais magically healed of his old mutilations, and yet Rais refuses to speak or otherwise take advantage of his restoration, for unknown reasons which confound even Joop.) He's glad this world seems less bigoted than the one he left, but he would rather go back to Europe and try to improve things than just jump ship to a supposedly better place. There are monsters here, human and inhuman, and Joop isn't sure how to deal with them. Joop misses the variety of cultures and ideas he could find back home, where the known world wasn't so small and, in some ways, so homogeneous.

Ooms is homesick, and depressed, and becoming reckless, and starting to give up on whatever responsibilities he once held himself to. Rais seems outwardly unaffected by the change in his surroundings, and that worries Joop much more than if Rais were visibly upset. At least Henry VIII likes it here.

So why doesn't Joop just write another novella and go home? First off, he isn't sure how. Which aspect of the novella brought him specifically to this world? How can he fine-tune a story to take him to Earth? Since nothing magical happened until he actually finished The Decimation of 49 Days, he has no way to experiment with this new power short of using it and seeing where it takes him. And frankly, Joop is scared that writing novellas willy-nilly would take him to worlds that are much worse than this one. What if he writes some innocent yarn about a milk maid and lands in Hell? Is it worth the risk to try?

Second, Joop recently heard rumors of a band of adventurers who had also spent time on Earth, and according to them, some major social changes may be occurring at the behest of a powerful witch named Orelia Woolcott who is backed by some sort of god. Would Joop even recognize Europe if he returned to it? Would things be better or worse? Perhaps he could turn back the clock with his powers if he finds the new Earth distasteful, but that comes with its own dangers.

And finally, Joop's powers have become less predictable as of late. If he paints the same picture of a box three times, one box winds up empty, another contains several pounds of raisins, and the third is full of venomous snakes. If he paints someone tripping on the sidewalk twice, the circumstances leading up to the event and the severity of the resulting injury vary wildly between the two. Once, he painted a bucket full of water, and it exploded as soon as it came into existence. It turned out that the tiny corner of the bucket's interior that was not visible in the painting contained a sample of alkali metals upon manifestation.

On Earth, Joop's intentions seemed to matter a lot more when he created something. Here, the fruits of his labors are all starting to resemble something out of "The Monkey's Paw."

The Joop-Quests of Unknown Adventurers

Joop van Ooms is eager to meet and party with any and all up-and-coming adventurers-for-hire who seem trustworthy enough not to try and rob him. This is partly because he wants to assess them as potential employees, since he has a lot of mysterious and dangerous errands he needs somebody to run as of late, but mostly he just wants to find people who are interesting. Ways to interest Ooms (and thus get on his good side) include:

  • Talking about (true) experiences in other worlds.
  • Espousing political or ethical views that match his own.
  • Showing genuine curiosity or wonder about the universe.
  • Partying hard, but still maintaining some self-control.
  • Arguing compellingly for an aesthetic or philosophical opinion, even one he disagrees with.
  • Understanding or showing respect for science.
  • Displaying talent or dedication as an artist, writer, or musician.
  • Summoning the demon that gave Joop his powers. THIS SPACE LEFT INTENTIONALLY BLANK
  • Being funny.
  • Being sexy. Joop is basically pansexual.
Depending on how much he likes the party, Joop van Ooms can be anything from a ally who gives out lucrative quests and magical favors to a subtle and relentless enemy who tries to systematically ruin the lives of the PCs. As an ally, he may not be entirely trustworthy. As an enemy, his degrading emotional state could lead to him making mistakes which unintentionally help the party, like giving the Emperor a reason to support the PCs in finally taking the mad artist down.

Also, if you want to obtain some Yellow Lotus Powder, or something more exotic, Joop's got quite the stash.

The Strange High Man in the Theater

Between October 7 and October 31, an Ooms play is running once every odd-numbered night at the Golden Tentpole Theater in Tandem. It is entitled The 49 Dispatches of Trystero, or Doing One's Part to Salvage the Spectacle Through Truancy Regarding Pageants. Audience reactions from the first two performances have ranged from "What was that fucking thing, besides an incomprehensible waste of three hours?" to "I don't know what the hell I just watched, but it was pretty and weird and I'm slightly drunk and I had fun." Everybody, rich and poor, seems to be going, out of curiosity and peer pressure if nothing else.

Admission to the "pit" area at the front is free to the public, while the seats cost 50sp each. Attendees are encouraged to donate more money if desired, since all proceeds will be donated to the Saint Petra Home for Unwanted Children in order to help them deal with the influx of orphan refugees following the destruction of the Pale Lady's foul plantation by, you guessed it, an up-and-coming party of adventurers. The richest people in and around Tandem are competing with each other to donate the most, and therefore look the best.

This is the first time, at least in recent memory, that Ooms has put on a play on his own initiative and paid for it out of his own pocket, rather than working for a patron. It is also by far the longest-running play he has done. Another unusual factor is that this play has more than one magical effect on the audience. Being present for at least 9/10 of the play has the following effect on audience members:

  • Granting immunity to the next Charm Person spell or other hostile attempt at magical or psychic mind control or compulsion suffered within the next 24 hours.
  • Granting immunity to all sexually transmitted diseases for the next 24 hours.
  • Granting an extra 1d6 points of intelligence to any children conceived in the next 24 hours.
The magical effects of his plays are among the only abilities that Ooms has managed to keep secret from the Imperial government. Some people "in the know" about him suspect that there is a supernatural aspect to his theatrical performances, but they have been unable to find enough proof for any kind of accusation.

Once the play is finished running, Joop plans to hire some adventurers to help protect the proceeds as they are transported via caravan to Saint Petra's.

A Note about Gilles de Rais

Rais has in his possession a unique magic item: The Mask of Martense. He only uses it in emergencies. He has informed Joop of the mask's properties, but not how or where he obtained it. The wearer of the mask experiences the following effects:

  • Strength and Constitution increase to 18 when the mask is on.
  • All of the wearer's melee (including bare-handed) and throwing-weapon attacks that would ordinarily do less than 1d8 damage do 1d8 damage instead.
  • The wearer can make up to 2 melee attacks per round.
  • Every time the wearer does damage with a melee attack, they can heal themselves for the same amount of HP as the damage done if they make a successful Save vs. Poison.
  • If the mask is put on, it cannot be removed unless the wearer either dies or kills at least one creature of 2 HD or more.
  • The wearer is treated as Chaotic in alignment while wearing the mask.
  • For the first 3 days after the mask is removed, the former wearer must pass a Save vs. Device every day or be irresistibly compelled to put it back on. If it cannot be put back on after failing any of these saves, the former wearer loses 1 point of Constitution per week until it is put back on, and will continue to feel compelled to wear the mask again. All Constitution lost in this manner is restored if and only if the mask is worn by this person again.
  • If the wearer sleeps with the mask on, they go permanently, murderously insane, becoming an NPC under the DM's control. No save. Make a new character.
  • Wearing the mask feels good. Really good.

A Note about Henry VIII

Henry has developed a thing for dwarf women. It's a full-blown fetish, really. Not that there's anything wrong with that. If you want to get access to Ooms, being or knowing a woman of the dwarven persuasion would help convince Henry to grant you an audience with his boss.

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