Sunday 29 May 2016

Kill Six Billion Demons

The webcomic Kill Six Billion Demons (K6BD) starts absurdly: a bulky masked figure from nowhere crashes Allison's first nervous sexual tryst in her college bedroom, pursued by spiny fiends who decapitate him and bear away her boyfriend of three weeks -- but not before the masked one can implant a regulation-issue Power Macguffin of the Chosen One in Alli's forehead and tumble her across dimensions into a sordid hub-city of the multiverse.

If you haven't read the comic but are intending to, it might be best to stop now  with this review and head on over, if you've got a few hours to spare. The setting that ensues is probably best appreciated through the revelations of the story itself. Spoiler warnings apply more to the details of this world than the "hero's journey" chassis of the plot. If that doesn't faze you, read on.

Gradually, through art dark and luminous, punctuated by enormous teeming panoramas, we see the many orders of angels, devils, humans, demigods and stranger sorts in this universe of 777,777 worlds. Through exquisitely stylized dialogue and accompanying didactic texts, we learn the rules, stories and power relations that our heroine must navigate - at first as a screaming, near-catatonic wreck, but gradually gaining confidence in the role she is to play. Currently the series is finishing up its second book and, if the schematics of the plot tell true, there is a great deal of ground left to cover yet.

The setting calls to mind a Planescape built on Empire of the Petal Throne instead of D&D. A wholly original mythos nonetheless mingles recognizable names and themes from Buddhism (Mahayana and Zen alike) and Near Eastern mythology. Deftly balanced with the cosmic ponderousness of angels, gods and worlds in the balance we find sardonic and self-aware touches. These mainly come from Allison's foothold in the mundane, and from a wisecracking blue-masked imp she acquires, Cio, who fancies herself a writer of fanfiction, Allison her Mary Sue.

Rhombicubooctahedra make the best angels
The comic's creator, "Abaddon" (Patreon), has a strong eye for systems of magic and metaphysics, expressed in vigorous visual metaphors. Cio works magic by way of paper: a business card that marks an unwilling pact onto the recipient, a wall of giant paper dolls, an origami flying mount. The system of binding demons involves a hierarchy of colored masks and human-added names: the fewer names a demon is bound by, the more powerful. Landscapes are more often than not dotted with the towering, frozen or ambulatory, bodies and husks of expired gods and angels. This is a fallen cosmos where God is dead, and lowlife and oppression are everywhere. Perhaps not by coincidence given our heroine's sexual jitters, her first otherworldly destination is a lurid bordello district where desires worse than carnal lust are evidently slaked.

As far as gameable content, an official RPG for the setting is in development. In the meantime, I've worked up an old-school compatible set of spell adaptations for paper magic, adding a few effects not shown in the comic.

Paper beings are AC as unarmored, take double damage from fire and cutting weapons, none from blunt, cold or piercing. Spells are cast with appropriate paper materials and a rhymed couplet containing the numbers five and two.

Caster level
1: Paper servant. Paper doll becomes "seen" servant with 1 HD that acts as unseen servant, can become invisble from a particular vantage by turning sideways.
2: Paper planes: Fold (1 round) and throw a paper plane dart up to 30', never missing, doing d6+1 damage. Can repeat once n a row per caster level above 2.
3: Calling card: Caster always knows the location of a card engraved with his/her name, 1 day/caster level.
4: Paper wall: Dolls multiply and grow forming a whirling wall of 20 2 HD 5-foot paper soldiers up to 10' across or 30' long.
5: Origami mount: has 5 HD, up to 3 human sized persons can ride, flies at 18"
6: 52 card pickup: Sharpens and scatters a pack of cards through a 30' x 30' area, doing 4d6 damage, minus one d6 for every 2 points of armor protection.
7: Paper oracle: Pose a question with up to 4 answers, folded finger oracle over 1 round chooses the most correct one.