The new and improved defender of RPGs!

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Livestream: the Metaphysical Underpinnings of the #NPC Meme

So today, this is just a little livestream I did, where I talk about some of the philosophical/metaphysical justifications that could be used to underpin the #NPC meme... and the only thing I don't really like about it.

Take this as you will (I suggest with at least one grain of salt!).



RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti A-class + Peterson's Wild Atlantic

Monday, 15 October 2018

Inappropriate Characters Livestream: Halloween Special

So last night we had our "halloween" episode of Inappropriate Characters.

Among the subjects we covered:

-Remembering Greg Stafford

-How to run good Horror games

-The current state of the OSR and what the Googlepocalypse means to it

-Matt Mercer's groveling apology for describing a Yuan-ti Temple as "Aztec-like"

-The result of a fascinating new survey by a left wing activist group that shows that almost everyone in the United States hates SJW ideology!


Check it out:




RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Dunhill Amber Root Bulldog + C&D's Crowley's Best 

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Stay tuned today (Sunday 14th), 7:30pm CST, Venger, GrimJim & I will be doing another LIVE episode of #InappropriateCharacters talking about the latest controversies of the #RPG world!

#DnD #OSR #ttrpg #DnDGate



RPGPundit

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Classic Rant: Real Magic in RPGs - A Real-magic "Sanity" Mechanic?

"Real Magick" in RPGs, Continued

Before I go on with things real magicians do (or would-be real magicians routinely fail to do), I thought I should address a mechanical issue. In "modern occult" themed games, usually there is some kind of special mechanic or set of mechanics that are meant to reflect the state of both a magic-user's power, and the state of his "mental health" in whatever form as he works magick.

Obviously, none of these have been really well done as accurate reflections of what goes on in a magician's career. To give some examples of what I'm talking about here, in CoC you have "sanity" and "Cthulhu Mythos" stats, in Unknown Armies you have the madness meters, in oMage you had "paradox" (if I recall correctly), etc.

So what kind of stats would you really have to have to reflect the state of a magician's attainment, and his deterioration in turn, if you were trying to reflect how "real" magick is done in our modern world?

I've thought about this for a bit, and I think you'd have to do something like the following:

First, you'd need a stat to reflect the Magician's ongoing state of enhanced perception, the flowering of intuitive knowledge, the capacity to see into the supernatural world, or the general sense of transcending the mundane; let's call this Gnosis. Gnosis would start at basically zero, but your goal would be to gain in it as time went by. Gnosis can only be gained by what Gurdjieff called "Shock points", moments of spiritual crisis where something sufficiently outside your mundane understanding of reality happens that it leads to a potential growth in awareness. Basically, "mind-blowing experiences" and general weird shit happening.



Most people have some of this weird shit happen in their life at some point or another, yet usually they end up repressing it (this means that a Shock moment only has the potential to lead to gain in Gnosis, more on that later). But for magicians, there is almost always some initial event that takes place, something that knocks them out of their consensus of reality sufficiently that they can't ignore it, and this leads them into the study of magick in the first place, however half-assed or seriously they may go about it from there. 
Gnosis is increasingly hard to develop as you go along; this is because any previous experience is no longer a Shock. For example, dropping acid, the first time that you do it, completely blows out your frame-of-reference, your ego has nothing to compare it to; by the second time you do it, you already do have something to compare it to: the first time.

So a Shock has to be something different each time, and has to lead to a progression in one's understanding for it to even have a chance to increase Gnosis. I would probably run this as some kind of 0-100 ranged stat, where each time you experience a shock you would roll a percentile die, and if you got HIGHER than your current level of Gnosis, you would gain a certain number of Gnosis points. Any experience that was too mundane, or that was a retread of what you had experienced previously, would not grant you new Gnosis points, though it may be useful in other ways. This would be a tricky thing to govern, because your state of mind can affect whether something is a Shock or not; if you repeat the exact same action (for example, performing a certain ritual) but your state of mind has changed sufficiently, it might count as an entirely new Shock, as it provides you with some new revelation. 



Gnosis wouldn't be the only important statistic to keep track of, however. There's the flipside of Gnosis, which is Ego. "Ego" in this case refers to the "illusion of the world", to the construct of ideas and concepts, memories and outside influences on your being that you've patched together and decides is "you", as well as your ideas about reality and how reality works. Everyone would start with a certain level of Ego, a measure of how strong their personality is. Any Shock which successfully generates Gnosis should also reduce Ego. But on the other hand, any Shock which FAILS to generate Gnosis could potentially increase Ego. That is, you perform a ritual or have an experience that presents you with the chance to redefine your whole concept of yourself or reality; it creates a Shock (a spiritual crisis), and the next question becomes how you deal with that Shock. You can be receptive to it and allow it to change you, that means Gnosis is generated. On the other hand, you can simply fail to take advantage of the change. But you can also react strongly against the change, trying to hold onto the Ego. Then you create new kinds of justifications for yourself, to avoid having to change, you rationalize the experience, and use it instead of as a vehicle for alchemical transformation, as a way to reinforce your existing prejudices about reality. Thus, your Ego gets stronger. So I would say that any Shock experience that fails to raise your Gnosis would require a test against Ego, to see if Ego increases. Basically, any Shock event that raises your ego is an experience so terrifying (maybe LITERALLY terrifying, or not, but definitely terrifying to your sense of self-definition) that you just refuse to accept it as it really is and build up a fantasy to help strengthen your existing ideas instead.

The third stat of importance in all this would be Obsession. As Shocks occur, whether they increase Gnosis or affect Ego, they can end up generating a certain amount of Obsession in the magician; this is the closest to "madness" that you would see. Someone under the effects of Obsession would be caught up in the distraction of the events that caused the Shock; they would end up getting lost in the minutiae of the vehicles used to obtain the Shock (be they drugs, magical ritual, ecstatic frenzy, kabbalistic numerology, alchemical gobbledygook, metaphysical ruminations, etc etc.), and this would complicate both their ability to function in the everyday world, and their ability to continue developing magically. Someone who is being affected badly by obsession would be that guy who gets caught up in the visible appearances of "being a powerful magician"; the guy who can't keep his mouth shut about the subject, tries to talk about the kabbalah or pagan gods, or whatever he's into, to anyone at all who'll listen; the guy who starts ignoring his regular life and work and relationships to instead spend all his time trying to study or talk about or summon up demons, or read tarot cards, or find the numerical significance of every little thing that comes along. Like Gnosis or Ego, you'd have to mechanically create a chance of generating Obsessions whenever you had a Shock Experience, and you could require someone to make a roll against their obsession value at different times to see if the Obsessions don't end up interfering with either their magical study (obsession tends to create "blinders" where you ignore certain avenues in favor of your pet obsessions) or their social lives (obsession turns you into a nutter); failing an Obsession check might lead to a small increase in your Obsession level, while doing certain other things (meditation, intentionally trying to build up social connections, psychological self-analysis, etc) might have a chance of slightly reducing your level of Obsession. Later Shock experiences would affect Obsession in such a way that a given Shock might either increase or reduce obsession; so that I'd probably have any Shock point cause a direct percentage "check" in obsession, where if you rolled equal to or under your current level, you'd gain more Obsession, and if you rolled higher than your current level you'd reduce your Obsession. Note that unlike Ego, which would only increase in the case of failing a Gnosis check, obsession would be checked in every Shock event, so you could theoretically gain both Gnosis and Obsession at the same time. That's pretty common, actually.

Should someone get to 100 Gnosis points, they would become an "Adept", someone who has obtained a permanent state of awareness that there are dimensions beyond the material, and the ability to connect to that altered state of consciousness beyond the rational mind. Someone in this state would be able to permanently access their "higher self" (in magick sometimes called the "True Will" or more poetically, the "Holy Guardian Angel"). They would not necessarily always be willing to follow the direction and guidance of that True Will, however. Further Shock experiences would not need to be tested against Gnosis, but could still work against Ego, either to reduce or increase it, as the Adept struggled between the constructed-psyche he continues to identify with, and the higher state of consciousness he is now constantly (and sometimes painfully) aware of. Note that "True Will" rarely has much to do with what your ego thinks it wants at any given time, it is rather a kind of cosmic consciousness that has to do with your higher purpose; from the perspective of the human being at the level of the ego, it can seem like an entirely different entity, hence this notion of an "Angel" trying to guide you, and often demanding things of you that are very difficult.



Its possible for your Ego to reach 0, in which case you will have become a "Magister Templi", a buddha, completely transformed into a new level of consciousness (where the physical body, the mind, the Higher Self, and what you previously believed to be the Divine are all experientially understood to be one single thing); but only if you can cross the "trial of the abyss": the dark night of the soul that is the final challenge of the ego's will to dominate versus your true will to transcend. 

A person confronting the Abyss would have to face all of their resistance, fears, attachments and obsessions, and be willing to let them all go. Failing the trial of the Abyss, resisting the annihilation of the ego to the point of shutting one's self in, would result in the creation of a new Ego-construct instead of transcendence; what Crowley called a "Black Brother", trapped in delusions of power and grandeur, and unable to let go of those accomplishments they cling to. It would be theoretically possible, but very difficult, to overcome this and again face the abyss a second time. Mechanically, this initial failure of overcoming the Abyss could be done by having your Ego raised back up to the level of your Obsession (which would be that which the magician would cling to, after all), and for a subsequent attempt to overcome the Abyss requiring some kind of very strong (probably life-endangering) Shock event, and a check with greater difficulty than the former (with another failure causing an increase in Ego to some multiplier of your obsession; ie. obsession x 2, x3, x4 etc. for each failure).

Having an Ego score get up to 100 would simply mean that you have an extremely rigid sense of self and reality, you would be almost completely unwilling to accept anything that was not your own illusions about what you are and what reality is like. It would make it very difficult to be able to reduce your Ego level, as you'd basically be in deep denial about everything. Having an Obsession level of 0 would just mean you're a very well-functioning human being, whereas an Obsession level of 100 would make you utterly batshit certifiably insane.

There's probably one more thing that would need to be mentioned here; and that's what I'll call "Masks". The Ego is seen as a problem for the magician's ultimate goal of "transcendence", unity with the universe, cosmic consciousness, whatever you want to call it; but the Ego is also the personality, it is what we normally define ourselves as, and the basis for our interactions with everyone else, who also define themselves as their egos (in fact, the difference between magicians, and a few other spiritual practitioners on the one hand, and everyday people on the other is that most regular people don't normally question that they are their personalities, and don't even imagine that there is something else much greater beyond that which is also "them"). So the "successful" magician can quickly run into a problem, which is that if you reduce your Ego without developing any skill to compensate for it, you will end up seeming basically "broken" from the perspective of everyday society; you won't have a real personality, or a sufficiently stable one. You'll seem weird, disconnected (or obsessed, if your Obsession level has grown while your Ego has decreased), and generally uncomfortable to be around. But the fact is that the Ego is just a kind of mask that people have glued onto their true nature, their inner vastness. That vastness is uncomfortable and people can't connect to it (in fact, one of the most common early "Shock" experiences of a new magician is when they run into some kind of teacher in whom they catch some glimpse of that vastness). But if the Ego is just a mask, it is possible for a magician to learn how to put on other masks at will; to basically create a personality (or as many personalities as he likes) and put them on as needed to deal with different people. This would be a magical skill, which could be called "Masks". 

To obtain it, the magician would have to perform practices and techniques of invocation, learning about archetypes and how to embody those archetypes, or how to create new archetypes. Mechanically, he'd probably have to develop a level of Masks skill that was in some way greater than his level of Obsession, because Obsession acts as a total barrier to the effective use of a mask. Someone who is successful in the use of a Mask skill would be able to essentially "construct" a temporary personality out of archetypal concepts; and would go from being socially inept due to low-Ego or high-Obsession to being extremely socially capable, as he could create a different mask for different occasions as they were necessary (becoming a "regular guy" when he's around regular guys, an intellectual around intellectuals, a hobbyist around hobbyists, a hobo around hobos, a hipster around hipsters, whatever). This is not just "acting" or "bluffing"; part of what wearing the mask does is temporarily incarnate the qualities of that mask-persona completely (its only comparable to acting in the sense of those very intense method-actors who go so totally into a role that they "become" the character). Someone who became a "master of the temple" would have to continually rely on the wearing of Masks to be able to function in regular society at all.
The easiest masks would be those closest to your existing persona (or for those beyond the Abyss, the imitation of their prior persona); after all, that too is a mask, it just happens to be the one you've been wearing your whole life.

Anyways, that's all I've got for now, and I'm not really planning on developing anything further in this direction; after all I'm not making an RPG here, just trying to create guidelines for others to try to use and develop stuff for their own "modern occult" campaigns.

RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Castello 4k Collection Canadian + Image Latakia

(Originally posted August 23, 2011)

Friday, 12 October 2018

R.I.P., Merlin


If you haven't heard already, Greg Stafford has died.

If you're some goddamn punk kid who doesn't know who that is, let me put it this way: the RPG hobby wouldn't be the same if it wasn't for Stafford. He helped make the Call of Cthulhu RPG. Then he went and made the Pendragon RPG, which was a masterpiece of design.

Then years later he published the Great Pendragon Campaign, which was the single best campaign setting book ever written.


Stafford was, like myself, a magician and a mystic; I don't know if he'd ever done a history degree but he was clearly an historian also.  So on various occasions, I had cause to exchange conversation with him over email, both about myth and legend and history, and RPGs, and the esoteric.  They were not many conversations, but they were always very interesting ones.

My own Dark Albion campaign setting would not have looked the same were it not for Stafford. It was his Great Pendragon Campaign above that taught me that it's dumb to dedicate huge sections of a setting book on stuff that already happened, and you should instead dedicate more space to stuff that might happen in the future.  So Dark Albion has a tiny timeline of the past, and a big timeline of the coming Rose War.  This was directly Stafford's method, and one I hope more setting designers figure out.

So yes, a giant has passed. Coincidentally, tonight is the night I play my current Lion & Dragon campaign, and it's set in Arthurian Britain, and of course I'm using a ton of Stafford's material as source material, because it's all excellent. So I'll be remembering him in gaming tonight.  If you don't already  know the stuff this guy made, you need to find it.

RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Poker + H&H's Chestnut 


Wild West Campaign Update: The Bounty




The city of Tombstone was abuzz with rumours, based on an article in the Tuscon daily, claiming that Billy the Kid, the recently escaped outlaw, had been spotted in the area.  Locals were assuming that Billy might be making his way to Tombstone, possibly to join up with the Cowboys.




And it wasn't just the locals. Tombstone found itself awash with bounty-hunters; mostly amateurs, but a few real professionals. One of them, a serious pro named Jim Wallace, has been on Billy the Kid's trail for ages now, and he presents himself to Jeff Young (as Kid Taylor is out of town). Wallace is a tough mean customer, who has no time for drink, women, criminal types, or "scum" (which seems to include almost everyone, but particularly Mexicans).

And speaking of Mexicans, Jeff's hard-luck Mexican sidekick David had bumped into a pretty Mexican girl coming out of a general store, and suddenly got all googley-eyed. When Jim Wallace suggested to Young that he had a few words to exchange with Doc Holliday, Young decided to follow him to the Oriental, expecting to watch Jim get himself killed. As it turned out, Doc wasn't there; still sore over his break-up with Big Nose Kate, he'd gone off to gamble in Purgatory.  But when Jeff got back to the Marshal's office, he found that David had disappeared.

Meanwhile, it had turned out that Mayor John Clum had offered Wyatt the office of city Marshal (currently Kid Taylor's job). Everyone assumed because he was tired of Kid Taylor vanishing on the job. In any case, Wyatt refused. Clum had also come into the Argent saloon to ask Jeff Young why he wasn't in the office. Being "in the office" was not something the deputy had signed up for, but Clum berated him enough to get off his keister and get to work.

(John Clum with his wife Mary, by then deceased)

While at the Argent, Clum didn't care to drink, but he did accept some water, "unflavored".  But when offered a glass, he expressed (in typical deadpan) that he'd clearly asked for 'unflavored' water. The Argent bartender was perplexed, as this was very clearly what he had in fact given him, but Clum was a man of mystery.

Jim Wallace also visited the Argent, a bit later, making an ass of himself while accusing Crazy Miller of being the leader of the Dodge City Gang, in league with the Cowboys, and a known associate of Billy the Kid.  Crazy couldn't figure out how Wallace knew that last one, given that he'd never told anyone about the one time he'd met Billy, but as it turns out it was Dirty Dave Rudabaugh who'd ratted Crazy out when Wallace visited Dave in prison.

Jeff Young started to get worried about David, so he went looking in the Mexican Quarter. He crossed paths with the Cowboy Indian Charlie Cruz, who spoke Spanish and proved surprisingly helpful, explaining that apparently the young lady David met earlier was named "Lupita", and she was something of a gold-digger, having tried to hook up with various men to maintain herself. Only now, her incensed father (who has no idea Lupita isn't the very picture of innocence) claimed that Lupita had been 'seduced' and 'corrupted' by David who'd run off with her. Jeff Young found out that Lupita and her father had moved to Tombstone relatively recently from a little town called San Luis, and he suspected that they might have fled there to get married. He decided to go after David, and asked the Millers for help. Crazy Miller agreed to go immediately, but Other Miller decided to stay behind; that is, until  he remembered that Billy The Kid had strong connections with the Mexican-American community and became concerned that his two friends might be riding right into the Kid's current hideout. So he raced after them.

When they arrived at the town, they found that Billy the Kid was not there, but they did find David and Lupita. Too late, as they'd gotten married already. The next day they brought them back to Tombstone, and to Lupita's father, hoping he'd be pleased David had at least done the right thing, and made an honest woman out of his daughter.  But the dad didn't see it that way. Lupita expected David to work to maintain her (and for Crazy Miller to pay for that accordingly), and when Dad was not impressed she even claimed (falsely) that Miller had promised to help her start her own shop. But Dad wanted Lupita taken care of in a proper way, and wanted his daughter to marry a rancher or at least a farmer, not a crass businessman (not that David was any of those things, having spent his whole life as the most menial of laborers). Dad demanded that Lupita would stay with him until David could become a worthy landowner.

Leaving David to his misery, Crazy Miller headed back to the Argent, but not before crossing path with Jim Wallace and tell him that Billy the Kid definitely wasn't in San Luis, causing Jim Wallace to immediately rush to that town suspecting that Crazy was lying to him.
Curly Bill Brocius had come to talk to Crazy, telling him that Wallace had been making himself a problem with the Cowboys, and had aggressively threatened Billy Breakenridge for having written news reports that made Billy the Kid out to be a hero. Curly Bill threatened that if Wallace came back to town, he'd probably have to be dealt with.



Meanwhile, the Argent bartender had been so perplexed about Mayor Clum's dislike for their water that he went to Doctor Goodfellow. Doc was perplexed as well, and since he was the designer and majority owner of the aqueduct that brought the water supply to Tombstone (including the water that was sold at the Argent) he tried to take on the challenge, designing a protocol to purify the water. When at Crazy Miller's insistence, Mayor Clum came back to the Argent and tried the new water, he claimed (in total deadpan) to be 'outraged' at this 'prank', since the new water was worse than the old water!


(Doctor George Goodfellow, the biggest mary-sue in the wild west; bigger than Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday!)


David had come the next day to see Jeff Young; asking for a loan to buy a 20-hectare ranch from a miner. Young tried to explain that he didn't have that kind of money, at which point David apologized, expressing that he should never have asked in the first place and that of course even if Jeff had a dollar, David probably wouldn't ever be able to pay it back.
A dollar?
Yes, it turned out that a down-on-his-luck and very drink prospector was going to sell a farmstead that was "useless" to him for $1. Young lent David the money and then they went to check out the place.  It was 20 hectares alright, in the middle of the desert, with a broken-down farmhouse. It looked pitiful, but David was overjoyed. He planned to keep working for Crazy Miller to try to fix up the place, and then become a full time rancher and get Lupita to come live with him.

Meanwhile, Virgil Earp had been given the same offer as his brother by Mayor Clum: to become the new town Marshal. In Virgil's case,  he was already the US Marshal for Cochise County, but it turned out he would be able to take on both roles as long as the US Marshal work took precedent. Clum was willing to give Virgil two deputies, so that he could do so. Virgil talked with both Young and Other Miller about this (separately). He was strongly considering this (not mentioning that in part, he needed the extra money), but wanted to know what they thought and whether they knew why Clum wanted this so badly. Neither of them did know that, but both felt Virgil would be a better town Marshal than Kid Taylor, though at the same time didn't want Kid to have any hard feelings. He told them he'd be happy to have any combination of the three men (Young, Other Miller or Taylor) as his deputies, but whoever he got for the job would have to put in the hours and follow his orders.  Jeff Young decided he didn't want that kind of responsibility; he'd come to Tombstone to be a gambler, not a lawman, and had only taken the job for Kid Taylor because he thought Taylor would need his help.  So he bowed out; while Other Miller agreed, and it remained to be seen what Kid Taylor would think of being demoted rather than just fired.



In any case, Virgil decided, before accepting anything, to demand of Clum just why the Mayor wanted this change.  And finally, he found out the truth: Clum was planning to introduce Gun Control to Tombstone, making carrying guns illegal in town limits, and he thought Kid Taylor wouldn't be the man to be able to enforce it in the face of Cowboy resistance (and keep his head). Virgil decided to accept the job, but it wouldn't be official until next month.

The day after that, Jim Wallace was back in town, and angrier than ever. He hadn't found Billy the Kid, but he did read an article in the Tombstone Nugget (Billy Brekindridge's paper) that presented Wallace as a "thug" and a "menace".  Wallace went over to the Crystal Palace Saloon and started smacking and threatening Billy, calling him an 'effeminate nancy-boy' and a 'degenerate'. Curly Bill Brocius came into the saloon and got in Wallace's way, protecting Billy and telling Wallace to fight someone his own size. Wallace said that Brocius had no bounty he knew of and thus no interest to him. He started to walk away.  Brocius followed him to the door and said "but now you have a fight with me!" and started to draw. But Wallace wasn't one of the most dangerous Bounty Hunters in the west for nothing; he outdrew Brocius and got him with two shots: one to the neck, and the other to face. Brocius fell. Jeff Young had shown up just before the gunfight and everyone could see it was a fair fight. Young and Sherman McMaster stopped the other Cowboys from attacking Wallace in public, while Doc Goodfellow was called. He stopped Curly Bill's bleeding and got him to his clinic. Incredibly, Curly Bill was remarkably lucky; he would survive with nothing more than a couple of distinctive scars to mark his encounter.

The next day passed without anyone catching sight of David, and finally Jeff Young grew worried. He rode out to David's new farmstead, only to find that the entire house had collapsed! David's bad luck persisted. David himself was injured but not badly, and had dug himself out of the wreckage. By the time Young found him, David had been trying to dig a trench to make himself a sod house (something that was a workable idea in a place like Kansas, but not so much in Arizona); but even this had gone wrong. In the process he'd found that his land was nothing but sand over a layer of pebbled rock, and when he dug into that he struck water. Jeff took David over to the Argent and told the Millers about all this misery... but suddenly Other Miller had a thought. It was just a chance, that maybe, that water which David had struck, being filtered out of the pebbled rock, might be the "unflavored" water that Mayor Clum desired.  Other Miller went to the Mayor and invited him to come out to David's farm and try the water; and when Clum did, he was shocked to discover it was the "most unflavored water he'd ever tried". Clum immediately rushed back to to David and offered him $600 for his useless ranch!

David was overjoyed, and immediately accepted. He was sure that Lupita would be overjoyed too, and indeed she was when she found out. David had plans to get a proper farm for them, but Lupita told him she'd find a little shop instead, and asked him to let her take care of the money for now.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys were planning revenge against Jim Wallace. Other Miller realized this would be dangerous, and so he carefully started spreading the rumor that Billy the Kid had been spotted back in New Mexico. Wallace caught on to the rumor and between that and realizing he'd probably bitten off more than he could chew with the Cowboys, decided to skip town.

As it turns out, so did Lupita. She left a couple of days later, with David's heart and his $600, sneaking away in the first morning stagecoach. Once again, David's infamous bad luck had struck true.


RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Raleigh Hawkbill + Image Virginia


Wednesday, 10 October 2018