[HWBS] Joe and Jane Mundane: An Introduction to Everyday People

Not everyone is born into knowledge of the supernatural; quite the opposite, in fact. A vast majority of humans that now know about the esoteric world around them came into that knowledge through events in their life that forever changed their perception. This Hidden Worlds and Buried Secrets post gives a bit of attention to the people on the street, especially those who have just come into contact with the supernatural.

The Changing Nature of Mundanity and Awareness

A character whose background includes them still being in the dark about the truth of the supernatural at the start of the first session of the campaign has the disadvantage Mundane Background. While this disadvantage remains relevant as long as you’re a supernatural ‘greenhorn’ whose knowledge is so sparse that you have no access to the skills prohibited by Mundane Background, eventually you are likely to wise up and start learning how to do things. This, of course, means buying off Mundane Background, be it through points gained from your adventures or by replacing it with another disadvantage (if you want to use those points to gain new positive traits instead). Before touching on the latter, it is important to note that there is now an intermediate stage between ‘has Mundane Background’ and ‘doesn’t’. The Daydreamer limitation for Mundane Background (Pyramid issue #3-97, pg. 19) halves its point value and allows a character to buy certain supernatural-related skills but always roll them at default, which is perfect for reflecting a character who has gained the very basics concerning the utilization of these skills but is overall still quite inexperienced.

Methods of Learning the Truth

The following are some of the ways an individual can find out firsthand about the true and active presence of the supernatural. Note that while these events are a catalyst for that knowledge, they do not necessarily facilitate losing Mundane Background on their own; an individual could bury their encounter as a bad memory they don’t wish to relive, for instance, or not be fortunate enough to find a person or group of people capable of giving them more accurate information than what their encounter already presented.

Shared Revelation: The least common method of learning the truth is a supernatural entity, or individual with supernatural powers, actively revealing it to someone without this knowledge, usually a close and trusted family member, friend, or lover. Even with such ties, it is often difficult to admit such secrets without at least some apprehension; after all, not many people are likely to react calmly and rationally to a statement like “I’m secretly a wizard” or “I’m actually half satyr”. This is especially true in households where there is an innate conflict of interest between the mundane and the supernatural, such as a household that holds the belief that magic is an evil force tied to demonic activity.

Personal Revelation: The individual finds out that they are the supernatural force! This is the category for your wizards accidentally learning of their magic talents, werewolves after their first full moon, and other such events.

Eyewitness Encounter: The individual gets a good, direct look at the supernatural, such as witnessing a  fae troop dancing around an old oak tree or spotting a skinwalker as they shed their beastly form. An eyewitness encounter is meant to be a conflict-free one, as if it escalates further it is considered to be one of the two types of conflict below.

Direct Conflict: The individual in question is targeted by a hostile supernatural force. They might be attacked by a vampire, find their house haunted by an angry spirit, or captured and interrogated by a wizard whose methods clearly invoke spells that the individual can figure out are supernatural.

Indirect Conflict: While the individual isn’t attacked by a supernatural force, someone they know is. Perhaps it’s a lover suddenly possessed by a ghost, or a dead parent that comes back as a ghoul, but whatever the cause it is both hard to deny and a shock to the system.

The Truth Hurts: A Cost of Knowledge

The supernatural can be a cruel teacher in its revelations. For every knowledgeable who was born into a family that knew the truth or learned it peacefully, there are two more who came face to face with a threat that they had to overcome and scars they must bear, be they physical or emotional. In mechanical terms, these scars are a perfect opportunity to add more points through new disadvantages or buy off the Mundane Background disadvantage while also adding new flavor to the character. Some of the most common examples include the following categories.

Coping Mechanisms: After a traumatic experience with something you never even thought existed, it’s no surprise that you might find yourself adjusting your habits to manage to keep it together. While a relatively common go-to in urban fantasy stories is substance abuse (Addiction or Alcoholism in GURPS), it can just as likely be a resistible behavioral disadvantage. Some such disadvantages might include Callous, Low Empathy, or Selfish (trying to cleave to others might just get you hurt again), Compulsive Carousing (the mentality of “might as well live things up while I can!”), Compulsive Lying or Incurious (if the truth hurts so much, why hold it as a standard to chase after?), and Killjoy or No Sense of Humor (burying emotions means you can’t have them exploited). All of these methods can be potentially unhealthy, but they are character flaws rather than virtues, after all.

Physical Scars: Your first fight with a monster go bad? Really bad? Then it makes perfect sense to take some physical disadvantages and quirks based on that encounter if that’s what you want to help define your character going forward. Some old guard monster hunters (who are usually quite a few hunts past socially normative) even take such wounds as a mark of passage, seeing a newbie’s Missing Fingers or One Eye as a sign that while things may not have gone great, they were nonetheless enough of a hard-ass to earn their first kill while fighting through the pain.

Emotional Scars: While the claws and jaws and flashy damage spells can be scary, what the supernatural can do to the mind without trying are probably some of the most painful wounds a survivor can bear. Flashbacks, Nightmares, Panic Attacks, and Phobias are all disadvantages that can arise from the terror of the unknown, while the loss of someone else can lead to those disadvantages plus Chronic Depression, Guilt Complex, or even On the Edge.

Righteous Fury: Finally, there are some survivors whose disadvantages reflect their burning desire to make sure that what happened to them won’t happen again. Sense of Duty (Victims or monsters) as a disadvantage for monster hunters is one such example from GURPS Horror. Others can include Fanaticism, Intolerance at varying degrees – a character attacked by a vampire could feasibly develop either Intolerance (Vampires) or Intolerance (Undead) for -5 or Intolerance (All nonhumans) for -10, for instance –or  Obsession (“Slay the demon that killed my father”, “cleanse all ghosts from this town”, etc.). Any of these disadvantages are likely to be coupled with the advantage Higher Purpose (Slay [specific type of monster]).

Average Folks, Not So Average Abilities: Exotic and Supernatural Powers in Humans

Is it possible for your average, everyday human being to be born with powers beyond the norm, without the aid of outside gadgets or augmenting templates? Absolutely! If it’s a passive power, the individual may not even know they have it even after the supernatural has been revealed to them, though its effects protect them nonetheless. The following is a quick rundown of some of the aberrant powers that humans can sometimes be graced with by birth rather than by growth.

Detect: Three forms of Detect have a relatively good chance to naturally manifest in humans: Detect Magic, Detect Spirits, and Detect Auras (Detect Magic and Detect Spirits are Occasional on the rarity pricing chart for Detect, while Detect Auras is Common; special rules for Detect Auras are found in Pyramid issue #3-97, pg. 17). These are often saddled with the Vague or Unconscious Only limitations, though with the proper training these limitations can be removed as the wielder learns how their detection works. Before then, however, the advantage can be quite confusing: those who detect spirits or magic find they get a strange and uncomfortable feeling around certain places, people, or things, while those that can tap into auras find themselves uncannily good at picking up the emotional state of people and animals around them.

Mind Shield and Magic Resistance: Some individuals are born with particularly strong mental or magical defenses. While this doesn’t really show up in everyday life without supernatural intervention, it is certain to be a cause of surprise and consternation for the first mage or supernatural being they encounter that attempts to cast a spell on them or pry into their head.

Resistant or Immunity (Specific Exotic/Supernatural Threats): There are some forms of atypical Resistant that a person can be born with, just as you could be born with an elevated resilience towards toxins or other natural phenomena. Some good examples include Resistant/Immunity to the Facade (special rules in Pyramid issue 3-97, pg. 18), Resistant/Immunity to Mind Control, and Resistant/Immunity to Possession (special rules in Pyramid issue 3-83, pg. 31).

See Invisible: Those who have “the two sights” are capable of viewing creatures normally invisible to the naked eye, such as ghosts and certain fae. Superstition holds that being born with a caul (a thin membrane of tissue around the face) grants both this magical sight and good fortune; while there is nothing corroborating this on a 1-1 basis, a player may feel free to have a character with both See Invisible and Luck to replicate this belief.

Sorcerous Empowerment: Someone who has magical talent but doesn’t actually know of the supernatural yet is effectively Mage-Gifted, even if they aren’t throwing around their hardcore improvization yet.

Innate Spells: As noted in The Ways of Magic, some creatures have bought spells at full price as an innate supernatural ability, without naturally having the Sorcerous Empowerment advantage to let them buy these spells at a discount or learn further spells. Humans have a slight chance of having a minor natural spell-like power at birth as well, sometimes referred to as a magic boon. Some fitting spells include Minor Healing, Predict Weather, Repel Animals, Sense Danger, Sense Observation, and Sense Life.

Spirit Empathy: Just as some individuals happen to be “good with animals” or “good with plants” by nature, there are those rare individuals who are born naturally predisposed to being “good with spirits”. Spirits find people who have this innate talent to have a presence that is fascinating to sense. Those with Spirit Empathy often also have See Invisible, providing a history painted with experiences of seeing strange things for brief moments or out of the corner of the eye as spirit beings observed them with cautious curiosity.

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