Dread and Circuses (A Pathfinder Homebrew): The Invunche

The Comprachicos of Dread and Circuses are essentially lifted wholesale from Victor Hugo, but the general concept is a lot older. One near-ancient example of the same trope is the Warlocks of Chiloé, who among other things are said to create their own familiars by the artificial deformation of young children. This monster is a direct homage.


A child-sized, misshapen mass scampers on three clawed limbs – the remainder of what was perhaps once the fourth now seemingly forming part of the torso, although it’s hard to tell through the wiry black bristles that cover the creature. Every joint is twisted to an unnatural degree, and a forked tongue slicks out between rows of sharp teeth, tasting the air for blood.

Invunche CR 2

XP 600
N Small aberration (circus)
Init +1; Senses Darkvision 60ft.; Fleshscent (see below); Perception +2

DEFENSE

AC 14, touch 12, flat-footed 13 (+1 Dex, +2 natural, +1 size)
hp 22 (3d8+9)
Fort +4, Ref +2, Will +2

OFFENSE

Speed 30 ft. (tripedal) 10ft (upright); climb 15ft.
Melee 1 bite +5 (1d4+3), 2 claws (upright only) +5 (1d3+3)

STATISTICS

Str 16, Dex 12, Con 17, Int 4, Wis 9, Cha 11
Base Atk +2; CMB +4; CMD 15 (tripedal); 9 (upright)
Feats Skill Focus (Handle Animal), Skill Focus (Perception)
Skills Climb +11, Craft (Alchemy) +2, Handle Animal +4 Knowledge (Arcana) +1, Perception +2 Racial Modifiers Climb +8
Languages Aklo

SQ Change Stance, Unintelligible

SPECIAL ABILITIES

Change Stance (Ex)

An invunche can stand on either one or three limbs, and can switch between the two once per round as an immediate action. When on three limbs, the invunche loses access to its claw attacks, uses it’s full CMD and has a base land speed of 30ft. When on one limb, the invunche regains access to its claw attacks, takes a -6 penalty to CMD and has a base land speed of 10ft.

Unintelligible (Ex)

While technically capable of speech, an invunche’s twisted neck and forked tongue cause its words to be twisted into bleats and grunts. Listeners unfamiliar with a given invunche must make a DC 20 Linguistics check to make out its speech.

Fleshscent (Ex)

An invunche can detect flesh or blood by tasting the air. It has the Scent universal monster ability, but only regarding the smells of flesh and blood.

ECOLOGY

Environment any plains or underground, or anywhere among Comprachicos and their creations
Organization solitary, pair or crew (3-8)
Treasure incidental

Created through a more quick-and-dirty shaping process than most Comprachico creations, invunches are designed to be faithful assistants to their Comprachico masters, serving as guards, lab assistants and roadcrew. While often kept out of the public eye, they are a common sight doing the heavily lifting behind the scenes at any Comprachico circus.

The shaping process used to make an invunche includes twisting around all four limbs and the head of a young humanoid child and fusing one leg to their back. Combined with the alchemical treatments, this procedure prevents the child from growing to adult size or intelligence, redirecting its growth instead towards durability and strength. The tripedal resulting creature can either scramble on three limbs or hop slowly along on one, leaving the other two free for carrying, working and fighting. Invunches are broadly omnivorous, but are designed to primarily consume the remains of living creatures, functioning as cleaners and waste disposal by feeding on the bodily fluids and scraps left behind by Comprachico experiments as well as any edible circus debris.

Due to a combination of the young age at which they are abducted and the shaping treatments they are put through, most invunches do not remember their original childhood and are slavishly loyal to their creators, although some may occasionally be found who retain a few fleeting memories and one or two words in their original language, and these more individual invunches may on occasion flee their masters. More often, though, lone invunches are the results of accident, lost or abandoned or left behind when their masters died.

These masterless invunches tend to seek refuge in remote caves or ruins, alone or in pairs, and survive by hunting wildlife and unfortunate travellers. They are occasionally sought out by curious investigators for their knowledge of the Comprachicos and their methods, although this is considered foolish since communication with invunches is particularly difficult for outsiders: not only do they have the intelligence of a child and little if any vocabulary outside the Aklo taught to them by their creators, but the surgically altered throat and tongue of an invunche leaves each one with a unique speech impediment, making them difficult to understand even without the language barrier.

 


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Dread and Circuses (A Pathfinder Homebrew): The Apex Carnievore

Not gonna lie, this one is just because of the pun.


This deceptively graceful creature is so large and brightly patterned that it was easy at first to mistake it for a circus tent. Its head is mostly vicious, mirrored teeth, surrounded by tiny eyes striped like juggling balls. Between its canvas-like wings, a row of boney pipes emerges, playing a dreadful tune as the beast slips into the night.

Apex Carnievore CR 10

XP 1,600
CE Huge aberration (circus)
Init +5; Senses dragon sensesPerception +30

Aura Unnatural Aura (30ft)

DEFENSE

AC 22, touch 12, flat-footed 18 (+4 Dex, +10 natural, -2 size)
hp 102 (15d8+35)
Fort +10, Ref +9, Will +17

OFFENSE

Speed 50 ft., fly 50 ft. (clumsy)
Melee 1 bite +16 (2d6+5), 2 claws +16 (1d8+5), 2 wings +11 (1d8+2), 1 tail +11 (2d6+2)

Space 15 ft.; Reach 10 ft. (15 ft. with bite)
Special Attacks Carnival Tune

STATISTICS

Str 20, Dex 18, Con 20, Int 4, Wis 26, Cha 22
Base Atk +11; CMB +18; CMD 32
Feats Alertness, Cleave, Intimidating Prowess, Nightstalker, Power Attack, Skill Focus (Stealth), Stealthy, Thrill of the Hunt
Skills Bluff +13, Escape Artist +26, Fly +11, Intimidate +19, Perception +30, Perform (Sing) +14, Sense Motive +22, Stealth +21(+31 in areas of shadowy illumination or darkness), Survival +22
Languages Aklo (can’t speak)

SQ Compression, Freeze, Lead Processional

SPECIAL ABILITIES

Freeze (Ex)

A carnievore can wrap its wings around itself to appear to be a circus tent. A carnievore that uses Freeze can take 20 on its Stealth check to hide in plain sight as a canvas tent.

Compression (Ex)

A carnievore can move through an area as small as one-quarter its space without squeezing or one-eighth its space when squeezing.

Unnatural Aura (Su)

Animals do not willingly approach within 30ft of a carnievore, unless a master makes a DC 25 Handle Animal, Ride or Wild Empathy check.

Carnival Tune (Ex)

  • As a swift action, an apex carnievore may begin, maintain or end a musical performance from the pipes along its back.
  • All creatures within 30 feet that can hear the apex carnievore’s tune and that do not have the circus subtype must make a successful DC 19 Will save each round or be Frightened. This effect ends immediately if the creature is more than 30 feet away from the apex carnievore or can no longer hear its music. This is a sonic mind-affecting fear effect. The save DC is Charisma based. A creature that successfully saves is not subject to the same apex carnievore’s tune for 24 hours.
  • All Circusborn within 30 feet that can hear the apex carnievore’s tune must make a successful DC 19 Will save or become captivated. A captivated Circusborn moves toward the apex carnievore using the most direct means available. If the path leads them into a dangerous area such as through fire or off a cliff, that creature receives a second saving throw to end the effect before moving into peril. Captivated creatures can take no actions other than to defend themselves. A victim within 5 feet of the apex carnievore simply stands and offers no resistance to the apex carnievore’s attacks. This effect continues for as long as the apex carnievore maintains its tune and for 1 round thereafter. This is a sonic mind-affecting charm effect. The save DC is Charisma-based. A creature that successfully saves is not subject to the same carnievore’s tune for 24 hours.

Lead Processional (Ex)

  • An apex carnievore is naturally the most dominant member of its processional of carnievores. Instead of playing its normal Carnival Tune, an apex carnievore may choose to use its music to command lesser carnievores.
  • So long as it is not currently playing a Carnival Tune, the apex carnievore may, as a swift action, begin, maintain or end a musical performance from the pipes along its back.
  • Any regular carnievore that can hear this performance must make a DC 25 will save if it does not wish to fall under the apex carnievore’s command. A carnievore that successfully saves is not subject to the same apex carnievore’s tune for 24 hours. A carnievore that fails is under the carnievore’s command until it breaks free or the performance ends.
  • As a swift action, the apex carnievore may use the music of its performance to compel a carnievore under its command to perform an action of the apex carnievore’s choosing. If the action in question is something the compelled carnievore would never ordinarily do, that carnievore receives a second saving throw to end the effect before carrying out the compulsion.
  • Carnievores under an apex carnievore’s command gain a +3 morale bonus to attack and damage rolls for the duration of this performance.
  • All effects of an apex carnievore’s Lead Processional ability are sonic mind-affecting charm effects.

ECOLOGY

Environment any hills, plains or urban
Organization solitary or processional (1 plus 2–4 regular carnievores)
Treasure incidental

Every once in a while, the Comprachicos put extra effort into allowing a carnievore to grow and develop into an even larger, more fearsome, more dominant and slightly more cunning beast. Found in only the largest and most elaborate Comprachico circuses, and used mostly just to keep the other carnievores in line, apex carnievores tend to spend most of their lives hidden in plain sight as a mid-sized tent in the centre of the circus area, surreptitiously monitoring everything that goes on around them, revealing themselves only rarely when the need arises, such as when a lesser carnievore goes out of control, or a huge flier is required to aid travel in a hurry, or in the very rare event of a Circusborn revolt. Usually, the very possibility of the hidden presence of an apex carnievore serves as a more than adequate deterrent to prevent most Circusborn from ever considering misbehaving or leaving the circus to which they are assigned.

A typical carnievore has a wingspan of 25 feet and weighs 4500 pounds.

Dread and Circuses (A Pathfinder Homebrew): The Carnievore

The first monster designed for Dread and Circuses. Everyone fears a genetically engineered clown, but what does a genetically engineered clown fear?


This deceptively graceful creature is so large and brightly patterned that it was easy at first to mistake it for a small tent or a circus stall. Its head is mostly vicious, mirrored teeth, surrounded by tiny eyes striped like juggling balls. Between its canvas-like wings, a row of boney pipes emerges, playing a dreadful tune as the beast slips into the night.

Carnievore CR 5

XP 1,600
CE Large aberration (circus)
Init +4; Senses dragon senses; Perception +12

Aura Unnatural Aura (30ft)

DEFENSE

AC 17, touch 13, flat-footed 13 (+4 Dex, +4 natural, -1 size)
hp 52 (7d8+21)
Fort +3, Ref +4, Will +8

OFFENSE

Speed 40 ft., fly 40 ft. (clumsy)
Melee 1 bite +8 (1d8+3), 2 claws +8 (1d6+4), 2 wings +3 (1d6+2)

Space 10 ft.; Reach 5 ft. (10 ft. with bite)
Special Attacks Carnival Tune

STATISTICS

Str 16, Dex 18, Con 16, Int 3, Wis 26, Cha 14
Base Atk +5; CMB +9; CMD 20
Feats Nightstalker, Skill Focus (Stealth), Stealthy, Thrill of the Hunt
Skills Escape Artist +12, Fly -2, Perception +12, Stealth +9 (+15 in areas of shadowy illumination or darkness), Survival +12
Languages Aklo (can’t speak)

SQ Freeze, Compression

SPECIAL ABILITIES

Freeze (Ex)

A carnievore can wrap its wings around itself to appear to be a small circus tent or covered stall. A carnievore that uses Freeze can take 20 on its Stealth check to hide in plain sight as a canvas tent or stall.

Compression (Ex)

A carnievore can move through an area as small as one-quarter its space without squeezing or one-eighth its space when squeezing.

Unnatural Aura (Su)

Animals do not willingly approach within 30ft of a carnievore, unless a master makes a DC 25 Handle Animal, Ride or Wild Empathy check.

Carnival Tune (Ex)

  • As a swift action, a carnievore may begin, maintain or end a musical performance from the pipes along its back.
  • All creatures within 30 feet that can hear the carnievore’s tune and that do not have the circus subtype must make a successful DC 15 Will save each round or be Frightened. This effect ends immediately if the creature is more than 30 feet away from the carnievore or can no longer hear its music. This is a sonic mind-affecting fear effect. The save DC is Charisma based. A creature that successfully saves is not subject to the same carnievore’s tune for 24 hours.
  • All Circusborn within 30 feet that can hear the carnievore’s tune must make a successful DC 15 Will save or become captivated. A captivated Circusborn moves toward the carnievore using the most direct means available. If the path leads them into a dangerous area such as through fire or off a cliff, that creature receives a second saving throw to end the effect before moving into peril. Captivated creatures can take no actions other than to defend themselves. A victim within 5 feet of the carnievore simply stands and offers no resistance to the carnievore’s attacks. This effect continues for as long as the carnievore maintains its tune and for 1 round thereafter. This is a sonic mind-affecting charm effect. The save DC is Charisma-based. A creature that successfully saves is not subject to the same carnievore’s tune for 24 hours.

ECOLOGY

Environment any hills, plains or urban
Organization solitary or processional (2–4)
Treasure incidental

The Comprachicos are cruel and proud masters, seldom willing to permit escape or insubordination from the Circusborn they command. While no Comprachico is happy to waste years of work by having a Circusborn killed, it is a sacrifice they are often willing to make to protect their secrets and their reputation.

Shaped from young dragons or bred by Comprachico ringmasters, carnievores are the ultimate fear of all Circusborn, designed to keep them in line or hunt them down upon escape. Like all Comprachico creations, carnievores are shaped beyond all recognition into unnatural forms specifically designed to excel at their intended purpose. A carnievore’s body is surprisingly dextrous and malleable, allowing them to follow their prey almost anywhere in spite of their large size. Its skin resembles brightly-coloured canvas, and a carnievore wrapped in its wings resembles nothing so much as a small carnival tent, such that one can never be sure how many might be lurking in any given Comprachico circus – but a series of alchemical treatments during their shaping gives their skin a quality of blending in with darkness, allowing them to remain undetected until it is too late when following an escaped quarry.

The most infamous aspect on a carnievore’s design, however, is the row of organ-like pipes that run down its back like dorsal spines. Actually shaped from the original dragon’s spine, these pipes are cunningly connected to the carnievore’s respiratory system such that the creature can, at will, produce from them a monstrous, unsettling ‘song’ like the twisted sound of a carnival organ. The unnatural strains of a carnievore’s pipes tends to drive most humanoids into a mad frenzy of fear, but Circusborn are deliberately designed to respond to it as if to a siren’s call – making them easy to control for the Comprachicos, or easy prey for the carnievore itself.

A typical carnievore has a wingspan of 16 feet and weighs 3000 pounds.

 


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Dread and Circuses (A Pathfinder Homebrew): The Circusborn

Dread and Circuses is a homebrew (ie fanmade and entirely unauthorised) expansion for the Pathfinder tabletop role-playing game (and thus also broadly compatible with most editions of D&D, primarily 3.5E) which I’m working on because apparently I can’t stop sticking my head into new genres and new forms of media. The expansion focuses primarily on a new playable race, detailed below, based around the age-old question: is there anything creepier than a genetically-engineered clown?


All across the world, turning up in populated areas with no obvious pattern, the travelling circuses of the Comprachicos always have without fail the strangest and most specialised circus acts. No-one knows the secret of how the Comprachicos find such acts, but everyone has heard the same rumour, even though no-one has ever managed to prove it: that the Comprachicos steal lost and homeless children, and use close-guarded secrets of alchemy and surgical tinkering to shape the stolen urchins over years, causing them to grow not into recognisable adults of their own species but rather into the strange, unrecogniseable Circusborn.

Each Circusborn is designed from its youngest days to fill a particular niche in one of the Comprachicos’ circuses – usually as a performer in a particular circus act – and their bodies are shaped and treated through methods both magical and mundane to excel at their intended purpose. In most cases, their minds are also treated, leaving them with no memory of how they came to be – knowing only the name and purpose given to them by the circus. Even so, every so often a Circusborn escapes, either due to a rebellious streak that the Comprachicos failed to remove or by accident if a circus burns down or has to leave town in a hurry and leaves one of its members behind. Such lone Circusborn, also derisively called ‘Carniefolk’ by other races, must use their strange and unusual skills to survive in a world not suited to their kind.

Physical Description: Circusborn come in a far wider array of shapes and sizes than most humanoid races, as they are shaped to the bizarre whims of the Comprachicos, however general patterns can be identified. Most are of medium size, although often still comically tall or short by human measurements, and almost always strangely proportioned, with oversized feet, gangly arms, round torsos and hunchbacks among the most common deformities. Circusborn skin is generally either bone-white or brightly coloured, often a mix of the two with prominently coloured facial features and colourful designs on a white background. Circusborn hair tends to be outrageously bright, with blue, green and bright red the most common colours, and often grows naturally into elaborate curls. It is difficult to tell whether any given Circusborn is male or female, as their misshapen bodies often do not give many clues and even the more feminine-looking individuals often have colourful goatees or moustaches. Generally speaking, Circusborn tend to be grotesquely ugly to other races, although uncannily beautiful Circusborn acrobats are not unheard of in certain circuses, and there is a growing trend among some Comprachicos for ringmasters to have ‘Glamorous Assistants’ who fascinate with their blank, absent good looks just as much as other Circusborn do with their grotesque deformities.

Society: Circusborn are generally too rare to form communities of their own outwith the circuses they are designed to work in, and their strange appearances and ways often discourage other races from associating too closely with them as equals. Generally escaped Circusborn tend to be found on the margins of existing societies, as beggars, buskers or criminals. Adults often use Circusborn as boogiemen in fairy tales and horror stories, often conflating them with their Comprachico makers and telling tales of the monster clowns that emerge from the sewer to steal away children as circus slaves. Children, by contrast, tend to be strongly polarised in their attitudes towards the strange, talented performers, being either morbidly terrified or delightfully fascinated, and some fortunate Circusborn are able to make a living as children’s entertainers. Most often, though, Circusborn find trying to integrate with regular society to be difficult and frightening, and many end up returning to the familiar comfort of working as circus acts, albeit usually in more mundane circuses.

Relations: Circusborn do not tend to relate well to other races. Other races tend to see Circusborn as creepy, unnatural, and incoherent, while Circusborn are usually slow to understand the lives and customs of those outwith circus environments, if they are able to grasp them at all.

Gnomes are the race by far least likely to be put off by the aberrant nature of Circusborn, delighting in their bright colours and skill for magic tricks or feats of physical dexterity, and although Circusborn do not fully understand the obsessions or humour of Gnomes, they tend to feel more comfortable around them than many other species, recognising them as something not wholly unlike children. A similar relationship often exists between Circusborn and Goblins, although the casual cruelty of most Goblin tribes leads them to treat Circusborn more as amusing toys than as allies. Halflings tend to view Circusborn as pitiable creatures, recognising them as fellow victims of slavery, exploitation and oppression, and therefore respond to them with mixed feelings of repulsion and empathy, while the Circusborn for their part appreciate the whimsical optimism and good-humour of Halflings but are uncomfortable about the Halflings’ tendency to seamlessly integrate with the background of any society, something the Circusborn themselves cannot do and do not understand. Half-orcs and Half-elves sometimes similarly recognise Circusborn as fellow outsiders, although they generally do not understand the Circusborn’s notions of humour or comfort and cannot help but be repulsed by them. Dwarves and Elves both usually view Circusborn wholly as grotesque aberrations to be avoided at all costs, Dwarves unable to comprehend the appeal of circuses at the best of times and Elves seeing the lowly, artificially designed Circusborn as an insult to true art and performance. Humans and Ratfolk tend not to be much better, finding the Circusborn uncanny and unnatural at best, if not dangerously insane. Catfolk have been known to show a sympathetic interest in Circusborn on occasion, seeing them as, if nothing else, at least fascinating curiosities, but the grotesque gaudiness of most Circusborn tends to put even them off.

Alignment and Religion: Despite commonplace rumour to the contrary, Circusborn are not inherently drawn towards evil. It is, however, true that the traumatic start in life most Circusborn experience tends to leave them with an imperfect grip on their own sanity, and more than one Circusborn over the years has snapped and taken joy in visiting cruel and elaborate murderous pranks on those they feel shunned by. More reflective or strong-willed Circusborn are usually able to resist the urge to accept the paradigm of other races as incompatible with themselves, and mostly simply desire to be either appreciated or left alone, generally trending towards chaotic neutral or true neutral. Circusborn of good or lawful alignments are rarer and are usually seeking a new purpose or new place in the world after leaving behind the existence for which they were designed. Religious Circusborn tend to favour deities and faiths with a focus on the value of outcasts, art, freedom, children and/or comedy.

Adventurers: Circusborn who have left their circus behind often find themselves unable to settle down anywhere, and will sometimes adopt the life of a travelling adventurer for survival and lack of other options. Many Circusborn adventurers hope that by adventuring alongside others they might find a new, friendlier purpose in life, or a new way of bringing happiness to people, as they were designed to do.

Circusborn tend to have problems in social roles, although their natural inclination towards performance leads many to become bards anyway. Other Circusborn are drawn to the life of a rogue, where their unusual dexterity (and, in some cases, familiarity with juggling knives) can find a new outlet. Being generally shaped for maximum hardiness and reflexes, Circusborn also function well as frontline fighters, ranged archers or other combat-focused roles. Years or decades of alchemical tinkering usually leaves Circusborn without much natural receptiveness to magic and with even less force of individual personality, and so Circusborn sorcerers or oracles are rare, but it is not unheard of for Circusborn with an interest in magic to become wizards, clerics or, of course, alchemists themselves.

Names: Circusborn do not often distinguish between genders – many even preferring the pronoun ‘it’, viewing themselves as performers first with men or women being a distant second if at all – and so Circusborn names tend to be unisex, distinguished by those who wish to identify themselves with a particular gender by the addition of “Mr” or “Mrs” to the front of their name. Circusborn names include Jangles, Boffo, Coco, Bingly, Dropsy, Buttons, Muscles and Tweety.

Table: Random Starting Ages
Adulthood Intuitive1 Self-Taught2 Trained3
18 years +4d6 years
(22 – 42 years)
+6d6 years
(24 – 56 years)
+8d6 years
(26 – 68 years)

1 This category includes barbarians, oracles, rogues, and sorcerers.
2 This category includes bards, cavaliers, fighters, gunslingers, paladins, rangers, summoners, and witches.
3 This category includes alchemists, clerics, druids, inquisitors, magi, monks, and wizards.

Table: Random Height and Weight
Gender Base Height Height Modifier Base Weight Weight Modifier
Either 3 ft. 11 in. +4d12 in.
(4 ft. 1 in. – 7 ft. 11 in.)
70 lbs. +(4d% lbs.)
(74 – 470 lbs.)

Standard Racial Traits

  • Ability Score Racial Traits: Circusborn are shaped for resilience and flexibility, but they inevitably come across as creepy to others. They gain +2 Constitution, +2 Dexterity, and –2 Charisma.
  • Type: While originally Humanoids, Circusborn are so warped by their Comprachico design that they are now Aberrations with the Circus subtype.
  • Size: Circusborn are generally Medium-sized.
  • Base Speed: (Normal) Circusborn have a base land speed of 30ft.
  • Languages: Circusborn begin play speaking Common and Aklo. Circusborn with high Intelligence scores can choose from the following: Catfolk, Dwarven, Elven, Gnome, Goblin and Halfling.

DEFENSE RACIAL TRAITS

  • Cunningly Warped: Circusborn are designed to resist death so that they require less work to keep. Circusborn gain a +2 racial bonus on saving throws against death effects, negative energy effects, disease, and becoming nauseated or sickened; a +2 racial bonus on Fortitude saves to remove negative levels; and a +2 racial bonus on Constitution checks to stabilise when below 0 hp.
  • Animal Enmity: Animals sense something unnatural about Circusborn, and survival in the circus requires that they be able to keep out of such animals’ way. Versus creatures of the animal type, Circusborn gain a +4 dodge bonus to AC and a -4 penalty on all Charisma checks. The starting attitude of any animal towards a Circusborn is always one worse than it otherwise would be.

FEAT AND SKILL RACIAL TRAITS

  • Formed to Perform: Circusborn receive a +2 racial bonus on Perform (Comedy), Perform (Dance) and Perform (Sing).
  • Just Needs the Right Audience: There is a 50/50 chance that any child a Circusborn encounters will become either delighted or afraid. Circusborn have a +4 racial bonus on Diplomacy checks and a +2 bonus on Perform checks against a delighted child, and a -4 penalty on Diplomacy checks and a -2 penalty on Perform checks against an afraid child.

SENSES RACIAL TRAITS

  • Darkvision: Circusborn are Aberrations and as such have Darkvision to a range of 60 feet.

Alternate Racial Traits

The following alternate racial traits may be selected in place of one or more of the standard racial traits above. Consult your GM before selecting any of these new options.

  • Alchemical Saturation: Some Circusborn are warped with less cunning and more liberal treatments, and are therefore so saturated with alchemical treatments during their shaping that they become resistant to magic and chemical effects. These Circusborn gain a +2 racial bonus on saves against poison, spells and spell-like abilities. This trait replaces Cunningly Warped.
  • Hyperflexible: Some Circusborn are specifically designed to perform as contortionists, escapologists or acrobats. These Circusborn gain a +2 racial bonus to Acrobatics, Escape Artist and Sleight of Hand checks. This trait replaces Formed to Perform.
  • Rictus Expression: Some Circusborn have their face frozen during their shaping into a mask of one particular expression – whether a smile, a frown or a look of comical shock – which makes them extra unnerving and difficult to read. These Circusborn gain a +4 racial bonus to Intimidate and Bluff checks, and a -2 penalty to Diplomacy checks. This trait replaces Formed to Perform.

Racial Feats

The following feats are available to a Circusborn character who meets the prerequisites.

  • Balloon Artist: You were designed to spend all day making balloons for the visitors, and have the lung capacity to show for it. You can hold your breath for a number of rounds equal to 4 times your Constitution score before suffocating. As a standard action, you can breathe into an empty balloon, thereby reducing the maximum duration you can hold your breath for by one round. As a swift action, any character may inhale the air from this balloon, thereby increasing the number of rounds they can hold their breath for by one until the next time they breathe. Alternatively, as a standard action, you can reduce the maximum duration you can hold your breath for by one round in order to breathe directly into the mouth of a suffocating creature or a creature about to suffocate, thereby delaying the suffocation by one round. You can never reduce the maximum number of rounds you can hold your breath for below double your Constitution score by this method. The maximum number of rounds you can hold your breath for is restored to 4x your Constitution modifier whenever you rest. Unused balloons of your breath automatically burst after 12 hours.
  • Bouncy: (Prerequisite: Hyperflexible racial trait) Your flesh and bones are strangely rubbery, allowing you to bounce when hit. If you are struck by a melee weapon you can try to convert some or all of that damage into movement, exactly as if you were a Goblin with the Roll With It feat.
  • Deformed Freak: (Prerequisite: Intimidate 5 ranks) From the right angle, you are truly sickening. Whenever you successfully intimidate a foe, you may choose to make that foe Nauseated instead of Shaken.
  • Inflatable: (Prerequisite: Balloon Artist) You have learned to make the most of your enhanced lung capacity, turning your entire body into an air bladder. So long as you have not expended any rounds of the maximum duration you can hold your breath since last resting, you can inflate yourself as a free action to avoid falling damage as if under the effect of a Feather Fall spell for a number of rounds equal to twice your Constitution score. Once used, this ability takes a number of rounds to recharge equal to twice your Constitution score.
  • Knife-Thrower: You were designed to be shockingly accurate with a thrown blade. You can throw anything with a blade or a sufficiently sharp point (at GM discretion) as if you had the Throw Anything feat. You gain a +1 bonus to all attack rolls made with thrown slashing or piercing weapons, improvised or otherwise.
  • Living Statue: (Prerequisite: Rictus Expression racial trait) Your skin and hair don’t look quite real, and if you don’t move you look like a mannequin. You can hide in plain sight by pretending to be a creepy statue, as if you had the Freeze universal monster ability.
  • Slapstick Comedian: (Prerequisite: Formed to Perform racial trait) You’ve spent your life blinding people with pies and tripping them up with ladders in the name of comedy. On a successful hit with any improvised weapon, you may attempt a Dirty Trick or Trip combat manoeuvre on the target of the successful hit as an immediate action.
  • Stretchy: (Prerequisite: Hyperflexible trait, Dex 15) Your flesh and bones are unusually stretchy. You can extend your limbs beyond your normal reach if you don’t mind opening yourself up more to attacks. As a swift action, you can take a -2 penalty to AC for one round in order to double your normal reach for that round.

 


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Calum P Cameron Annotates Dumb Stuff on the Internet and My Immortal Can’t Stop Him

[First published on Facebook on 14/6/2013]


[DON LAFONTAINE VOICE]

Last time…

Black Bl’ack Senility Black Direction is a teenage vampire witch with a lot of problems – but the only one she cares about right now is that Draco (In Leather Pants) Malfoy has been kidnapped – betrayed by the headmaster they thought they could trust. Now it’s up to Bl’ack and Not The Harry Potter You’re Looking For to save their friend from the worst fate imaginable: Voldemort Has Him Bondage.

This chapter… one man… and one vampire… have no time for grammatical accuracy.

[DON LAFONTAINE VOICE END]

Chapter 14.

This chapter contains major inappropriate content and equally major lulz. Proceed at own risk. That’s all I’ll say here; Tara gives her own content warning further down.

AN: fuk off PREPZ ok!

As is my job as Research Monkey, I actually managed to track down what “PREPZ (TM)” is in the real world. I had to wade through a LOT of linguistic defilement on the way, so I hope you appreciate the results:

Prepz

Turns out, Tara just really hates wallpaper paste.

Raven fangz 4 helpin agen.

30% More Lucifer Girl needed a break from Tara (and the alcoholism Tara’s writing provoked) so she took some time out to do good deeds in the French city of Agen.

im sory ah kudnt update but I wuz derperessd

‘Derperessed’ is not a word, but it sounds like it if was it would be the perfect adjective to describe the mental state of someone who could write this stuff.

Many other words containing “derp” would also apply.

n I had 2 go 2 da hospital kuz I slit muh rists.

Woah. Uh. Welp. Um.

That’s… not good.

OK. Suddenly this is a lot less funny.

So, uh, moving on.

PS im nut updating

Tara does love her updating of nuts.

She’s almost finished adding the new varieties of macadamia.

til u giv me 10 god revoiws!

Uh… Ok, I’ll see what I can do…

[DON LAFONTAINE VOICE REACTIVATED]

TARA? THIS IS THE ALPHA AND OMEGA, THE BRIGHT MORNING AND EVENING STAR, AUTHOR AND SAVIOUR OF ALL THINGS AND ALL PEOPLES. THIS IS GOD.

YOUR STORY IS BAD.

[DON LAFONTAINE VOICE DEACTIVATED AGAIN]

One down, nine to go.

WARNING: SUM OF DIS CHAPTA IS XTREMLY SCRAY.

OH NOES NOT SCRAY

ANYTHIGN BUT SCRAY

VIOWER EXCRETION ADVISD.

I think that says “Viewer excretion advised”. As in “the correct response to this chapter is to VOMIT”.

Sounds fair.

We ran to where Volcemort was. It turned out that Voldemort wasn’t there.

Only Volcemort was there, you see. Voldemort was somewhere else.

Instead the fat guy who killed Cedric was.

I’m guessing that’s Peter “Wormtail” Pettigrew. Apparently, he figured “Volcemort” was a more fitting name.

Interestingly, this also gives us our first helpful indication of where in the canon timeline this is meant to fall (ignoring the real-world dates which simply don’t match up) – some point when Cedric is dead but Dumbledore is alive, which places it around the fifth book.

The two universes are so wildly different in every way that this hardly matters, of course.

Also, it throws into further doubt the identity of the character who shouted the line “BECAUSE I LOVE HER” two or three chapters ago. I assumed at the time that it was the original character Hargrid, but Tara later claimed it was someone called ‘Sedric’, who has yet to appear again.

Draco was there crying tears of blood.

Draco may or may not be a Vampire, in which case this is normal. If not, then it’s probably a sign of severe medical problems, such as –

Snaketail was torturing him.

…yeah, I guess that could be it, perhaps.

Vampire and I ran in front of Snaketail.

I’m guessing this is Wormtail, just with a wrongly-remembered name. But as with all such things, it is genuinely hard to tell, because, y’know, Tara.

‘Rid my sight you despicable preps!’ he shouted

…excuse me?
Even if you repair the grammar, that comes out as, basically, ‘Remove my vision, you hate-able conformists!’ which is not something that anyone would ever have reason to say. EVER.

as we started shooting him with the gun

This gun has at least a gazillion and one bullets, then. Presumably they got it from an old-school video game.

he Then suddenly he

If you try to say this out loud, you can convince people you’re having a stroke.

looked at me and he fell down with a lovey-dovey look in his eyes.

OK… the idea of a Vampiric Thrall (where a person is immediately hypnotised into loyal service by meeting the eyes of a concentrating Vampire) is an established part of existing fiction, so I’m tentatively holding onto the interpretation where this ISN’T pants-on-head stupid.

‘.’ he said.

How do you pronounce that, exactly?

(in dis he is sixteen yrs old so hes not a pedofile ok)

I want to hear more about how this alternative canon works, wherein Pettigrew went to school with Harry rather than James Potter, but STILL managed to be drawn into Voldemort’s inner circle in time to murder Cedric Diggory. Unfortunately, this has nothing to do with clothes, punk rock or blood, so it’s a safe assumption that Tara will never think to write about it.

‘Huh?’ I asked.

I guess that IS a fair enough reaction to a would-be attacker suddenly falling at your feet and pronouncing morse code, but you’d think it would be reasonable to expect her to prioritise the internal haemorrhaging of her boyfriend over the weird noises of a guy she may or may not even know at this point.

Still clinging to the hope that this is a Vampiric Thrall thing – even if this is a new superpower that Ebony conveniently discovers when she needs it, that’s better than the alternative.

‘Enoby I love you will you have sex with me?’ asked Snaketail.

You see? It even makes him think like she tends to think. Clearly a thrall thing, right?

I started laughing crudely.

You do EVERYTHING crudely, pal. Hate to break it to you.

‘What the fuck? You torture my bf

Yes, she actually SAID “bf” unironically.

and then you expect me to fuck you? God, you are so fucked up you fucking bastard.’ I said angrily.

I don’t think Bl’ack knows many other swear words, so she just spams that one and hopes it’ll get the point across.

Then I stabbed him in the heart.

WOW. Ok. Props to her for finally doing something useful, I guess. Ladies and gentlemen, the Solar System’s Lamest Vampire appears to have taken a level in badass. I’m so impressed, in fact, that I’m going to immediately promote her to merely WORLD’s Lamest Vampire.

Especially since she didn’t have any stabbing weapons on her, so I can only assume she did that with her TEETH.

Badass.

Blood pored out of it like a fountain.

‘Pored’ means ‘filled with pores’, something fountains and blood are not usually associated with, but fair enough.

‘Nooooooooooooo!’ he screamed. He started screaming and running around. Then he fell down and died.

This is what passes for a dramatic death scene in Taraland. At least she’s better at this than the erotica.

I brust into tears sadly.

Moment of badassery ruined. Solar System’s Lamest Vampire it is.
‘Brust’ is actually recognised as a British dialect variant of ‘burst’, by the way – albeit only by the unabridged edition of Merriam-Webster, an AMERICAN dictionary.

‘Snaketail what art thou doing?’ called Voldemort.

Why, he art dying of course. Verily. Forsooth! Egads.

Then… he started coming!

Oh MY.

We could hear his high heels clacking to us.

…Lord Voldemort: good with magic. TERRIBLE with footwear choices.

So we got on our broomsticks and we flew to Hogwarts.

…the broomsticks that you did not bring with you when you teleported here.

As in, you explicitly did not have time to go collect broomsticks.

We went to my room. Vampire went away. There I started crying.

If you take a drink every time someone cries, this fanfic becomes 42% more bearable, although mostly because you stop remembering it after a while.

On a related note, if you take a drink every time someone does something arbitrarily for no explained reason, you DROWN.

‘What’s wrong honey?’ asked Draco taking off his clothes so we could screw.

Is he… is he still bleeding at this point?

Because… ew.

He had a sex-pack

I think you mean a six-pa-

(geddit cuz hes so sexah)




DIE.

[Clears throat, straightens cuffs]
So sorry, don’t know what came over me. Let us continue.

and a really huge you-know-what and everything.

Surely a huge you-know-what would look normal-sized on someone with an equally huge everything?

‘Its so unfair!’ I yielded.

The “yield” of a process is everything it actually produces.

Whether by luck or design, Bl’ack is right. Whiney complaints are ALL she actually produces.

‘Why can’t I just be ugly or plain like all da other girls and preps here

WAT.

except for B’loody Mary, because she’s not ugly or anything.’

Firstly: the idea of someone interrupting themselves to qualify their own exaggeration is HILARIOUS.

Secondly: Why does nobody love poor little Willow?

‘Why would you wanna be ugly?

A reasonable question, Draco. I suspect that the answer is that Tara (like many girls her age) thinks she’s ugly, but at the same time she wants to believe that her state is preferable to everyone else’s, so she tries to portray ugliness as a benefit here.

I don’t like the preps anyway. They are such fucking sluts.’ answered Draco.

…Miss Kettle, there’s a Mr Pot for you on Line Two.

‘Yeah but everyone is in love with me!

Except for Voldemort. And Dumbledore. And Dame Maggie Smith. And Snape. And (we presume) M’oloko Plus Smith and Willow. And Diabolo, probably. And I’m still dubious at best about Draco (ILP) and NTHPYLF. Which I think leaves… no-one.

Oh, wait, there was that as-yet-unidentified voice at the end of that one chapter. That’s one.

Like Snape and Loopin took a video of me naked.

That’s, uh, true, but not usually included in the definition of “love”.

Hargrid says he’s in love with me.

Does he? I thought that was Sedric.

Vampire likes me

Vampire pretty transparently only likes you as a Rebound Girl. Get over it.

and now even Snaketail is in love with me!

Firstly: I’m still trying to believe that was Vampiric Thrall over here.

Secondly: Less of the present tense, if you don’t mind.

I just wanna be with you ok Draco!

Which is why you “jumped on” and “started screwing” NTHPYLF less than a day after Draco (ILP) went missing. In the middle of class. In front of a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Why couldn’t Satan have made me less beautiful?’

Not renowned for being helpful, is Satan.

I shouted angrily. (an’ don’t wory enoby isn’t a snob or anyfing but a lot of ppl hav told her shes pretty)

I wasn’t worried. I gave up worrying about this claptrap some time ago.

Also, note that this aside has nothing to indicate that it’s an Author’s Note. We are forced, therefore, to assume that Ebony (or, uh, Enoby, I guess) narrated that. In third person, about herself. And she got her own name wrong.

On the plus side: the rare sight of correctly-used apostrophes in this work.

‘Im good at too many things!

Like… whining! And… swearing! And… describing my own clothes! And… and, uh… and…

…and…

WHY CAN’T I JUST BE NORMAL? IT’S A FUCKING CURSE!’ I shouted and then I ran away.

CAN’T HAVE SEX TONIGHT, DRACO. NOT NORMAL ENOUGH.

 


While not cursed with abnormal beauty, I am cursed with poverty, and so it would be cool if people could support the Court of Ranternal Affairs.

Fhtagn in the Deep (or “Why Upsetting Cthulhu is Even Worse than Upsetting Adele”)

[Originally published on Facebook on 18/3/2012]


There’s a fire burning in my hearts

Reaching a climax with the alignment of the stars.

You, my cultist were meant to summon me,

But instead you chickened out and left me under the sea.

 

The scars in your mind

Would heal up just fine

And in the meantime

We could have had it all.

 

The scars in your mind

Would heal up just fine

And in the meantime

 

We could have had it all!

You left me in the deep!

I’ll take your heart inside of my fronds!

But your soul I’ll simply eat!

 

We could have had it all!

[Stuck inside R’lyeh]

[Snoozing in the deep]

You left me in the deep!

[Gonna wake up one day]

[Wake up from my sleep]

I’ll take your heart inside of my fronds!

But your soul

But your soul

But your soul

But your soul I’ll simply eat.

 


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Calum P Cameron Hurls Himself Gleefully Out of His Depth: An Analysis of John 3:16

[Adapted and expanded from a post originally published on Facebook on 16.3.2014]


There’s an interesting exercise which is occasionally done to demonstrate the depth of communication afforded by the English language, wherein a sentence is repeated several times with a different part emphasised each time, in order to see what meaning can be extracted from it.

Since today, being the sixteenth day of the third month, is marked in some Christian circles as John 3: 16 day, here’s me trying this exercise out with the eponymous Bible verse.

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

That’s John 3:16 as I prefer to quote it and as I remember it.

That’s… not perfectly any one major translation, so far as I can find, but kind of a blending of several. They all say about the same thing, but due to changing preferences in English word use over the years, the original Greek gets translated slightly different ways. Some say “die” instead of “perish”. Some say “everlasting” instead of “eternal”. Some even say “valued” or “prized” instead of “loved”. I don’t speak Greek and I’m not a trained Bible scholar, so when it comes to these kinda texts the best I can do is read a bunch of versions, and a bunch of commentaries on them, and come to my best conclusion about what seems to be being said and what the most apt way to translate that to modern English is.

[As a particular sidenote, almost all translations say “He” instead of “They”, but even though the masculine pronouns may be the literal translations of the pronouns this text uses for God, I’ve never liked that convention, and would consider it misleading.

The idea of the Abrahamic God being beyond binary gender is pretty-much literally as old as the idea of the Abrahamic God full stop. “In the image of God” is equated with both “male and female” in the Book of Genesis. Deuteronomy talks of God as both father and mother simultaneously. The Letter to the Galatians speaks of existence in Christ having no such binary distinctions whatsoever. It’s also worth pointing out that the conventional genders of the different persons of the Holy Trinity don’t agree with each other: while Jesus is definitely spoken of as a man in all Biblical texts that name Him, the word for “Holy Spirit” is by contrast treated as feminine in Hebrew and neuter in Greek. All of which makes sense: logic dictates that a transcendent entity beyond the cultural constructs of humanity wouldn’t fit neatly into any one human gender.

As an added bonus, “They” is also the only pronoun in modern English to be plurality-neutral as well as gender-neutral. Sometimes “they” means one person, sometimes more. This also lines up nicely with the Abrahamic God. God gets spoken of as an individual frequently, and yet much of the Old Testament uses the plural noun Elohim for Them, with accompanying pluralised grammar to match. God appears to Abraham at one point as a group of three distinct individuals. As I’ve already mentioned in passing, Christianity specifically has a tradition of conceptualising God as a triune entity – one in three and three in one.]

Digressions aside, the exercise at hand:

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Context, y’see, is important. Bible verses, like all fragments of text, do not exist in a vacuum; they follow what came previously, lead on to what comes next, and contribute to the overall trajectory of the book they come from.

For reference, this particular verse is a quote from Jesus, who is explaining His purpose to a Jewish religious official named Nicodemus – the general gist of the conversation seems to be that God sent Jesus to point people to the truth of who God is and what They want, so that they might be “born again” and the world saved from the effects of sin. Jesus says, basically, “Hey, you know how there’s that story about Moses where his buddies are dying from snakes and God has him lift up a model snake so everyone can see it [with the snake being like, I guess a symbol of God’s power over snakes or whatever; it’s a weird story], and then everyone who sees the snake, like, is reminded to put their trust in God and when they do God saves them? Well, the Son that God sent from Heaven is kinda like that snake. He has to be ‘lifted up’ so people can see him, and he can point people to God, and they’ll understand that God is acting to save them, and put their trust in God, and they’ll be saved from death” – which is, yeah, a lot to unpack on its own, but then he continues with a clarifying statement: “For [ie ‘because’ or, if you prefer, ‘you see’] God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

He also doesn’t even stop there. Before poor Nic even has a chance to process this bit, Jesus has already followed the train of thought on a bunch more, clarifying that God and the Son aren’t interested in condemning people but rather rescuing them, and then clarifying a bunch of stuff about what ‘condemn’ means here, and… look, Jesus was apparently one of those guys who can’t talk about anything without suddenly dropping a lot on you at once. There’s a reason we’re still to this day trying to figure out some of His teachings.

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Like a lot of the Bible, this claim is ultimately about God – the Greek word is ‘Theos’, a title that means ‘one who rules’ but also ‘one who places, who operates, who makes, who does’. Biblically, it generally refers to the Creator and Ruler and Operator and Putter Into Place of all things, or at least of all things that are good and right, as the hypothesised cosmic entity worshipped by the Jews of the time under the name/title of YHWH was believed to be, both by Nicodemus and Jesus (so far as we can tell, although like with anyone talking about any deity they clearly had at least partially different understandings of who or what exactly YHWH was).

God, the Big Important Cosmic Thing In Charge, is the subject of this sentence. It is a claim being made about what God is like and how God is running things and what God has done, and why. That makes it pretty important, probably, if one is for any reason interested in the theology of the person speaking or the theological movements they spawned. Since the person speaking here is Jesus of Nazareth, called the Christ, that’s probably actually quite a lot of people, of whom I am but one.

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

God didn’t HAVE to do anything to save us, according to Jesus. They didn’t have to make it this easy. They weren’t forced into it. They did it, because They love us – all of us, apparently, but we’ll get to that – just THAT FREAKING MUCH. SO much. SOOOOO much.

Jesus didn’t have to put the word ‘so’ in there. Coulda just said “God loved the world, and as such…” But didn’t just say that. Specifically said God SO loved the world. Jesus chose to put in an extra word purely for emphasis – to emphasise the scale and intensity and extent and depth of the love in question.

If ever a Christian tries to convince you that God’s love has limits – that you or anyone else isn’t welcome in God’s family, say, or that there are certain things you might do or be that would make God hate you, or that acts or systems or ideas which are inherently harmful to any group of people may be approved of by God – this is the verse to point them to.

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Again, like a lot of things in the Bible, this is not only about God but about love. The two things kind of go together, according to many Biblical texts. God pretty-much IS love. This one little verse is another such claim. Why does God want people to not perish? Love. Why would God give Their only begotten Son? Love. Because love. Always because love. Everything God does is about love. Love is God’s primary motivation. Their centre. Their drive. It overrides everything else.

How does God relate to the world? Well, first and foremost, according to Jesus, by loving it.

Admittedly Jesus does not spend any time here clarifying what exactly He understands “love” to mean, probably assuming – pretty fairly – that Nicodemus probably knows what love is and has at least somewhat similar ideas about it to Jesus. Jesus gives Nicodemus a primer on Himself and on God that centres around already understanding love. If you want a detailed Biblical primer on love, you’re probably going to want to speak to the Corinthians.

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

This one might be cheating, because I’m not sure that “the” is actually even a word in Biblical Greek. I know it isn’t in Latin. But even if not, I think there’s value to considering the implications of Jesus speaking about “the world”.

This is the only world we got. The definite article. We need to look after our world, because we haven’t got a back-up. That probably isn’t a point Jesus is specifically trying to make here, but in these modern times, that idea is an inevitable looming spectre whenever we think about love, or the world, or perishing.

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

I’ve seen a lot of people – a lot of Christians – get distracted by thinking about Heaven all the time. And, don’t get me wrong, Heaven is a thing worth thinking about. Sure.

But it’s the world – and God’s relationship with the world – that the Bible is primarily concerned with, and not so much the cosmology beyond. God is the subject here, but the world is the object of his actions and love. If you’re so busy thinking about God and Heaven that you don’t pay attention to the needs of the world, then you’re missing the point.

God, according to this text, doesn’t want people thinking in spiritual terms to the point where they aren’t doing practical, physical work to improve the physical world in the here and now. God loves this world, and acts to save it, and so (implicitly) should we.

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

This is an expression of logical progression. “This happened, so then that happens”. “This fact is so true that the following fact must also be true”.

God is portrayed here as a rational being. Mysterious, perhaps. Inscrutable, maybe – after all, Jesus acknowledges a need to explain this stuff to Nicodemus. God sees a bigger picture than us, so of course Their actions aren’t always immediately clear to us. But Jesus claims here that They work according to logic and rational decision. Their plan is motivated by feeling – by love – but Their plan is also a well-reasoned one that can be rationally understood. God may be beyond many things, but apparently They are not wholly beyond the notion of cause and effect.

Another point where this verse may not line up with the attitude of some Christians. As far as Jesus in concerned, there is no such thing as “the war between reason and faith” or whatever, because those things don’t oppose one another. Jesus values them both. God loves them both.

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

They did it Themself, we are told. No-one else was expected to help.

There was a problem. God noticed it. God dealt with it.

One thing I like about Christianity is that God doesn’t require we help ourselves out of our own mess. The human world often does. Far too many times I have felt in need of rescue, and rescue has not seemed readily available. I have been expected to survive under my own power using my own resources, even when my own power and resources have proven insufficient. Sometimes it feels like the rest of the world just sees me as Not Their Monkey from Not Their Circus, and feels no inclination to go out of their way to help me whether they can or not. Even when they do offer help, so often the current world’s help is conditional on performance. The government will begrudgingly pay to keep me alive, but only so long as I prove I’m doing (their punishing idea of) ‘enough’ to find a job. The health system will provide a therapist for me, but only so long as I meet strict criteria for both ‘ill enough’ and ‘trying hard enough’, and only so long as I don’t miss too many appointments, and…

It’s a central tenet of Christianity that God does not operate that way.

Death, for example, may be an insurmountable problem for mortals, but it doesn’t matter because our ability to surmount it never comes into it. God already did what was needed Themself. They knew that we are an immensely fallible species, so They solved the problem so we didn’t have to, rather than let us fail horribly.

Humans are profoundly problematic people. We’re not only sinful, but we seem to be basically incapable of adequately atoning when we do sin. Sure, if we try hard we can broadly improve over time, and we absolutely should strive in that direction, for everyone’s sake, but realistically we’re never going to achieve perfection. No human will ever reach a state where they no longer cause harm and thus no longer need to be given yet more second chances. And because of that, it’s impossible for a human to strictly earn forgiveness from anyone – to prove that they deserve it. But if a human wants forgiveness, God’s willing to forgive them, without any test to see whether they’re trying hard enough.

To me, that’s part of the meaning of omnibenevolence.

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Going hand in hand with the above bit about doing it on Their own: It’s a GIFT.

You don’t expect payment for a gift. You don’t even request payment for a gift. Sure, it’s good manners to express your gratitude for a gift, and it’s often nice to give a little back. So, I don’t think Jesus wouldn’t agree that praising God, worshipping God, etc, in recognition of Their gifts, is good. After all, there are other texts where the same guy explicitly advises us to render unto God that which is God’s (whatever exactly that means). But the implication of His wording here is that such praise, worship, etc is not necessary. God doesn’t expect payment. They aren’t keeping score. They aren’t asking for anything in return for what They give – ultimately, it’s up to you whether you want to try to pay Them back a little.

See again, the context of this verse, as touched on above: not here to condemn, just to save.

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

According to Jesus here, someone had to give something in order for the eternal life shtick to work out, and God chose to give their own Son. Their own son who, according to other claims made by Jesus elsewhere, is also kind of God Themself; it’s complicated. Point is, what emphasising this world conveys is that God sacrifices Their own stuff, or Their own well-being, rather than looking for a way to fix the problem while keeping the stuff They value to Themselves.

Christian hamartiology (which, yes, is one of the coolest words in existence) is not a simple subject. But a general overview seems to be that, by somehow screwing up the world with sin in some way, we – that is, humanity as a whole – had created a pretty big problem. One way or another, for whatever reason, the problem couldn’t be fixed without someone losing out. God, according to John 3:16, made sure it was Their loss.

Jesus’s God is not a Randian Objectivist. They value, and stick to, altruism. They are a self-sacrificing God.

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Jesus Christ, according to Jesus Christ, is a unique entity. He says that quite a lot, or at least implies it. This isn’t even the first time in John’s Gospel that He says He (or “the Son” or whatever, because apparently Jesus liked Third Person) is unique. Heck, it isn’t even the first time in specifically this one chapter.

The uniqueness of Jesus is thus a big thing in Christianity. Of all humans, He alone is divine, sinless, whatever. You’ll find a lot of emphasis in Christian thought that there is only one God (albeit one in three “persons”, perhaps, however that works) and only one Son in the Holy Trinity.

Statements like this one are where we got that emphasis from. Messiahs, Jesus frequently tells people around Him, do not come in multipacks. ‘If you’re looking for the real deal, accept no substitutes’ kinda thing.

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

The fact that Jesus feels the need to specify here is interesting. He portrays Himself as unique, but only insofar as He is God’s only begotten son.

A common idea in Christianity is that we are all God’s children. A lot of Biblical texts talk of God acting as a loving parent to all humans. Jesus is unique in being God’s begotten son (as opposed to “created”), but that doesn’t mean He’s God’s favourite. Ask anyone who has fostered or adopted: it is in the nature of a parent to love ALL of their children, regardless of where they came from.

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

As a general rule, in the New Testament (and in Christian texts in general), it’s always only a matter of time before Jesus (who likes to refer to Himself as the Son of God, although interestingly he likes to refer to Himself as the Son of Man even more; make of that what you will) turns out to be the focus of things.

Here, as elsewhere, it’s all about Jesus. God’s entire plan hinges on Jesus. He is the single most important person in the entire Biblical narrative. In the Bible, the exact mechanics of salvation and eternal life are… fuzzy at best, but this is one of many points where it is made obvious that, however it works, it works because of Jesus. So, like, if you were wondering, that’s why He’s the one who gets the Messiah title.

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

I get pretty emotional about this one. I read somewhere that, the way most old-school Greek copies of the manuscript phrase it, this word is SUPPOSED to be emphatic. It’s probably my favourite way to read it, anyway.

The Biblical message is one of uncompromising, all-encompassing, passionate inclusivity. God hates exclusion. They hate prejudice. They hate segregation. They hate bigotry. If you don’t go out of your way to welcome everyone you possible can, then you’re not being particularly godly.

‘Whosoever’ is a word that basically only gets used when ‘whoever’ is considered insufficiently emphatic. It means ‘whoever, but more so‘.

According to this verse, God wants to rescue and redeem everyone in the entire time-space continuum. Good, bad, morally-ambiguous, straight, gay, bi, pan, ace, cis, trans, queer, confident, questioning, black, white, neither, typical, divergent, healthy, sick, broken, whole, Twilight-fan… WHO. SO. EVER. Yes, even them. Yes, even THEM.

Inclusivity is hard. I get that. Not every space can be perfectly inclusive of everyone, at least not here on Earth. People may have conflicting needs, or it may be impossible for some people to feel safe around other people whether they want to or not. I once knew a woman with a legit full-blown phobia of being around other women, for example. And of course, there’s the ever-famous problem that as soon as you include a bigot, you automatically make that space less inclusive for the people that bigot is bigoted against. To make the system work, you need to have a whole bunch of spaces working on helping every combination of humanity to coexist as effectively as possible. Places for vulnerable groups to shelter from everyone else. Places for vulnerable groups to be around everyone else. Places for bigots to be taught how to be better people without vulnerable groups being exposed to them. It’s hard. It’s a lot.

But, damn it, if you don’t have any problem with people falling through the cracks or being left out in the cold, then God has a problem with you.

And yes, again, I’m subtweeting my own religion pretty hard here, because we are historically very bad at understanding this bit.

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Here’s the other half of the point I made earlier about reason and faith going together, I guess. One can read into this verse that it is vital to God that you do not abandon reason. This word (well, two-word phrase) makes it clear that it is also vital to Them that you have faith.

‘Believe in’ is a phrase that got kinda de-fanged in the last couple of generations. These days, it mostly just means acknowledging that something exists.

It used to mean more than that. To believe in someone is to have faith in their character and abilities. To trust them to know what they know and be able to do what they do. To place trust in them, and to want to stick by them no matter what – even if, as usually happens, you fail at actually doing so.

Actually being able to say with certainty that someone exists helps with that, I’ll agree, but I think “believing in the Son” here means more than just acknowledging that He’s there. I’m not even convinced acknowledging He’s there necessarily has to be part of it at all. I suspect it’s more meant to be about trusting Him enough to let Him take the weight from your shoulders. As established, Jesus – as God – wants to save people, and doesn’t want to gate it behind conditions or fees. He wants to free people of their mortality  (which, Biblically, seems to require first freeing them of their sin/guilt/shame/imperfection/whatever) and grant them a perfect, sinless eternal life – so long as they’ll let him. And it seems from this wording that this at least requires that they have enough faith to, like, not pull away when someone starts lifting off their yoke. I’m not sure you strictly need to acknowledge the person lifting the yoke to do that, though, so I suspect our modern understanding of the verb ‘to believe in’ may be misleading here.

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Okay, so for all that I just cast doubt on the commonplace understanding of “believing” or “having faith”, it nonetheless bears noting that, while having faith may be good in and of itself, the ideal at least is to have faith in the right things and the right people.

Jesus here appears to describe the giving of the Son of God as saving specifically all the people who believe in “him”. As mentioned above, most translations of the Bible use masculine pronouns for God, so it’s not entirely clear whether Jesus intends this particular pronoun to refer to the Son (in which case he’s apparently doing that thing where he talks about himself in Third Person again) or to refer to God. The issue may be entirely academic, of course, since he also claims to be God elsewhere. You could probably do worse than assuming it’s meant to refer to both.

This raises at least the hypothetical possibility of people who want to be saved, but who put their trust in the wrong potential-saviour. That, in turn, implies that it is worth asking who or what, fundamentally, God the Son is. 

It’s entirely possible to just make up a character and call him Jesus. Heck, it doesn’t really even matter what name you give to him – ‘Jesus’ isn’t even his birth name after all, his birth name was something closer to “Y’shew” (J and S sounds don’t really exist in Aramaic). What is it that actually makes Jesus… y’know… Jesus? If the name isn’t important, then what is it exactly that defines God the Son?

I’ve known people to claim to be following Jesus, while seemingly NOT following the same all-loving, self-sacrificing, gift-giving, peace-desiring, redemption-provoking character that I’ve always been talking about whenever I say the word “Jesus”. Some people seem to believe pretty firmly that the Jesus they believe in is a warlord and a homophobe, which definitely doesn’t sound like the Jesus I believe in, and for that matter nor does it sound like the Jesus Jesus seems to believe in if we go by the text we’re analysing here.

Maybe those people are wrong about their believing in Jesus. Maybe they think they believe in Jesus the Son of God, but actually they just believe in some fictional character whom they mistake for Jesus the Son of God.

Alternatively, maybe I’m wrong, and I’ve been grossly misinterpreting this passage as well as every other passage in the Gospels.

It seems very intuitive to assume we’re actually both wrong, and neither of us has faith in the real Jesus – after all, if there’s a real Jesus, He’s probably not quite the same person as anyone thinks he is. Most people aren’t. I’m probably not exactly like you think I am. You’re probably not exactly like your friends think you are. Human perceptions are very unreliable at the best of times.

But then again, most people would say they trust their friends, have faith in their friends, believe in their friends, even though they acknowledge that their perception of their own friends isn’t the objective truth. Which suggests it is possible to believe in someone while being wrong about them.

So maybe, in a way, me and the Warlord-Jesus guys are both right? Maybe we both count as “believing in” Jesus the Son of God, even though neither of us is actually correct about His character? I mean, I’d obviously say that I think my understanding of Jesus must surely be closer to the real thing than the one the warlord guys worship, but even if so, who am I to say where the line is drawn? Where exactly is the point where “believes in Him but also believes incorrect things about him” turns into “believes in an objectively different character”?

Then there are also people out there who believe in a God very similar in personality and character to the one I believe in, who believe in a God whose character sounds consistent with the kind of traits and behaviours Jesus ascribes to God, but who do not believe that God has any begotten sons, or that the historical person I call Jesus Christ was in any sense the same being as God. Do these people count as “believing in the Son”? They probably would not say they did, but maybe only in the same way I wouldn’t have said I had ever seen the Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province face-to-face if I didn’t know he was the same person as the Pope.

There’s questions within questions here. It’s very hard to tell what we’re supposed to take away from the phrase “whosoever believes in Him“. There’s no obvious answer to what does or does not count as “Him” in this context. I guess, if you actually care at all about whether the guy you believe in is actually the Biblical Jesus, then that’s the point at which you have reason to care who the Biblical Jesus is supposed to be, and that’s the point of Bible study and it’s probably the main reason why Bible study is a thing Christians feel the need to do.

I would, however, hesitantly say that this verse on its own does give us something to go on there. If ‘Him’ is God and/or God’s only begotten Son, well, there is one thing Jesus made sure to tell us about God (and by implication therefore the Son) earlier in this same sentence: God loves. God loves the whole world. If you put your faith in a ‘God’, real or imagined or figurative, who isn’t loving, or if you refuse to believe that everyone is worthy of such love and needs it, then maybe that is when you’re in danger of perishing. Maybe that’s what Jesus means here.

Which, yes, interestingly, would mean Jesus seems to be saying that a lot of Christians I know of are probably in a lot more danger than the vast majority of non-Christian religious people I’ve personally met, and also a huge number of atheists. Being irreligious doesn’t necessarily mean one doesn’t recognise the blood on the hands of oneself and one’s society, and put one’s trust in the ideals of perfect love and perfectly loving action as necessary and sufficient to make things right, which going by this verse alone might well be equivalent to believing in ‘God’ or ‘the Son’ without even conceptualising either as literally being a really real entity.

That’s an idea which very many would consider controversial, but it’s not actually uncommon even amongst fairly conservative Christians. C.S. Lewis openly posits in the Narnia books that God (well, Aslan) even considers well-intentioned Satanists (well, Tash-worshippers) to count as Their own followers, far moreso than anyone who follows an actively evil ideology even if they do their evil in Aslan’s name. And that was a guy who was himself so conservative that he once literally claimed romantic love between two men was inherently perverse. They do say even a broken clock is right twice a day.

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Fun Grammar Fact: when talking in Third Person, “will not” is used to simply describe something that someone is incredibly unlikely to do, while “shall not” is traditionally used to emphasise that the something in question is simply not an option, no matter how much Hell and High Water needs to be moved to make it so.

This wording here therefore implies that God isn’t messing around. They’re really going to the hilt on the whole “saving these people” bit. There is no shadow of turning with Them. They changeth not; Their compassions, they fail not. Great is Their faithfulness. Et cetera.

After all, it would seem unreasonable for Jesus to advocate for Nicodemus or anyone else to place their faith and trust in an entity that wasn’t themselves 100% faithful and trustworthy.

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Somehow, we got this far without actual clarification on what God is saving us from in this scenario.

‘Death’ is a word that kinda has two meanings in the Bible. Sometimes it means the simple cessation of bodily functions – the heart ceases to beat, the brain ceases to think. Other times – especially in the slightly deeper, more philosophical sections – ‘death’ refers to something more spiritual… a sense of being (or feeling) separated from the joy that God’s presence brings. A state of hopelessness and despair, especially one that is implicitly permanent.

That latter meaning is probably the thing God is supposed to be saving us from here. Maybe that’s why many translations stick with the more spiritual-sounding “perish” instead of the more straightforward “die”. Jesus probably isn’t claiming anyone can escape literal bodily death here – it’s worth noting that the book of John was written (or at least compiled) a little while after Jesus’s own lifetime, probably after a few of His followers already had died in the biological sense, so probably no-one reading was expecting to get out of that bit. Whatever happens, we still stop breathing and go stiff. The bucket still gets kicked.

But Jesus does seem to be claiming that, if bucket-kicking is still an inevitability, then even that isn’t enough to permanently separate us from God and hope and joy. Death isn’t really meaningfully death. It does not actually mean the cessation of all the things that make life, well, lively. In every way that matters, we remain ‘alive’ even after physical death.

That’s a pretty cool idea, and you can probably therefore see why Christians get so obsessed with the notion of Heaven, even if I do think many people let it distract them.

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Yeah, I’m combining these two, because I couldn’t think of enough to say about either of them individually. It’s my blog, deal with it.

It’s nice that Jesus clarifies what we get INSTEAD of death. Cos, y’know, that would probably be my next question. It’s also nice that it’s something we get to ‘have’. That’s a reassuringly dependable word. There’s something unconditional about it. We’re not just experiencing it or feeling it or borrowing it. We HAVE it. It’s OURS now. We don’t have to worry that we might lose it. I have anxiety problems, so I appreciate this kind of reassuring wording.

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Big, important word, eternal.

‘Life’ on it’s own connotes something temporary almost by definition. Something almost defined by its ability to end. A lifetime is a finite span, in human thought. That’s specifically called out as not what Jesus is saying we get. We get something everlasting. Something that doesn’t fade or rust or break or die. It doesn’t get old. It doesn’t degrade. Again, that’s reassuring, if difficult for a mortal being to properly imagine.

For God so loved the world that They gave Their only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Life is also a big, important word.

It’s a theme that occasionally comes up in decent sci-fi and fantasy works that the difference between limbo and heaven is whether you’re merely EXISTING or actually LIVING.

EXISTING for ever sounds pretty awful. It sounds like a drag. Sooner or later, you’re going to get bored. Your life will become meaningless. You’ll be spiritually and emotionally dead, but unable to actually perish with dignity.

In wording the phrase as he does, Jesus implies God doesn’t promise us an eternity with our own boredom. He promises us life. Life is what you’ve got when things are HAPPENING. Life is INTERESTING. Life is DYNAMIC. You can get bored of existing, but you can’t get bored of living. It’s a commonplace expression that if one is permanently bored and depressed, one isn’t truly living.

Speaking as someone who occasionally suffers from prolonged periods of depression himself, everlasting existence sounds horrible. But, while it’s difficult to imagine it and it may seem like a contradiction in terms, I would totally be up for everlasting life, if that’s an option.

Wow, that’s a wall of text.

Is it good text? I don’t know! Maybe! Please bear in mind that these are just my own thoughts, written pretty-much just as they come to me while re-reading the verse. I am not a university-qualified theologian, nor do I have any certified qualification in literary analysis, nor am I a pastor or priest – unless you believe in the Doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers, I suppose, but even then, I’m a pretty inexperienced one. I am quite likely to have gotten at least something wrong. Maybe lots of things! Maybe everything! Maybe there is no God and none of this really matters! These are all possibilities.

But I promised to hurl myself out of my depth, and so by gum I have self-hurled.

 


I don’t expect you to love me enough to give your only begotten son, nor would I know what to do with your only begotten son if you gave him to me, but a little support wouldn’t go amiss.