The new and improved defender of RPGs!

Friday 31 January 2014

Did 'Game of Thrones' Start as a GURPS campaign?

Gentlemen, I present you the evidence:  first of all, we know for an absolute fact that George R.R. Martin is a gamer, and that his favorite game in the world is GURPS.    We know that some of his other novels began as direct inspiration/play-report from one of his campaigns.

Now, I haven't actually seen any direct confirmation from Martin (or a reliable source of some kind) that "A Game of Thrones" started out as a GURPS campaign.  One person I discussed the matter with recently decried the notion that GoT might have started as an RPG game as "wishful thinking". 

We do know for a fact that Martin was influenced by the War of the Roses. And we know you can make the War of the Roses into an RPG setting: I've done it, with my "Dark Albion" campaign/ free setting.  But its true that it might be too much to hope for that one of the most popular franchises of recent years has direct RPG-roots.

Maybe so, but at the same time as an historian I'm trained to study text for historical clues. And I think I've discovered something everyone else has missed.

First, presume that IF Martin had started Game of Thrones as a campaign, it would have been with GURPS. Second, we know that characters created with different systems sometimes have a different look.   In GURPS' case, it is heavily affected by its being a point-buy system for people that love radical "character optimization".  Random-roll old-school it ain't.

With those two points in mind, something fascinating reveals itself:  pretty much with every character in Thrones you can see them as GURPS Fantasy guys complete with having seriously minmaxed on their disadvantages.  Consider:

"I want to be the best fucking swordsman in the world.. shit.. better take 'incestuous relationship with sister' and 'murdered the last king'"

"I want to be even better at swordplay than that other guy! Damn.. i better take "excessively tall", "social disadvantage: female", and "flaw: falls in love with idiots""

"I want to be crazy smart and really socially competent... ah well, 'midget' here I come"

"I want my character to be King! Damn.. I'll have to take the 'complete asshole' disadvantage"

"I want to have 'contender for the throne' and be the only player who didn't pay it off with 'complete moron'.  Yeah, I know I'll need to pay it off somehow.. how about 'sold his soul to a religious cult'?"

"I'm the badass strong mean knight.. fuck, well, "facial burns" and 'phobia: fire' it is.."

"I want dragons!! You're saying I'll have to take what?? And that's still not enough? I'd also need to.. shit.  Oh.. well.. ok!"

"I want to be the most awesome character in this or any other campaign ever. I'll have to take 'little girl'?? But I did that exact same thing already in the 'Kick-Ass Supers' campaign! Well, whatever..."

...And then the guy playing Littlefinger doesn't char-op at all and ends up running circles around everyone else anyways by sheer Roleplay, because he's used to playing Amber instead of GURPS. Which is why the char-opers all despise him.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia

Thursday 30 January 2014

RPGPundit Reviews: Sixcess Core

This is a review of the "Sixcess Core" RPG; written (mainly) by Ben Rogers, published by Harshrealities.  It is a review of the print edition, softcover, about 290 pages long. Its in gorgeous mostly-full-colour with quite good production values and art.

You might not have heard of Sixcess Core.  On the other hand, if you've been to certain conventions, you might have found a large number of gaming tables dedicated to this game.  Likewise, if you've been on certain rpg forums, you might have found quite a few enthusiastic threads posted on the subject of this game, as well as banner advertising (including on theRPGsite).  I found that a bit of a mystery, since it certainly did seem to come out of nowhere. But as it turns out, there's a reason for that, only I was not sure it has much to do with the game itself as with other reasons its promoters have for being so, well, evangelizing.

In this case, I use that last word literally.  I had the suspicion that Sixcess Core is produced by quite a large team of people, that I suspected of belonging  all to the same church.  As it turns out, I happened to speak recently with Ben Rogers, the main author, when we were both guest panelists in the "All-Star" #rpgnet-chat interview of RPG celebrities.  When I questioned him on this, he assured me that my suspicion was unfounded, that only he and a couple of friends involved were religious, and did not attend any church.  He assured me, in fact, that the promotion of Sixcess to the extent of making a huge investment in Con presence, advertising, and even producing a Calendar with schedules of Con Events and other details about the game, were purely a part of a large-scale marketing plan.  I have no reason to imagine he'd be dishonest about it (after all, if he really was evangelizing with his book, you'd think he'd be very eager to say so!), but in fact that only makes me think he's crazy in a whole different way.  To me at least, it would be more understandable if he was producing Sixcess and promoting it eagerly at a level of financial investment far beyond what he could reasonably expect would be profitable in this current RPG industry, because he was doing it for a higher cause he held dear; rather than just doing it because he has an idea that Sixcess could really be such an astounding success that he will make a huge enough return on his expenditures to make it all worthwhile.

In any case, my reasons for initially thinking Sixcess was an evangelizing project is not something I've just pulled out of nowhere.  If you look at the book's credits, they give "special thanks" to "God the Father, Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit" (one would almost expect that it ought to have been 'Holy the Spirit', but I guess there's no accounting for poetic meter).  Right after their preface, they provide "a word from the writers" where they comment that "the writers of this game system are Christians who believe in Biblical truth. We are presenting a worldview based on these beliefs".  They do make a point of claiming that it is not that they are seeking to convert people or make others change their ways, only to "proclaim truth to every creature", which is the "one specific task" that "all Believers were given". 

Their argument is that the RPG world is "rife with various forms of heathen, pagan, agnostic, and atheistic worldviews" and that "no one makes apologies for presenting what they believe in a game system, nor shall we".  I can, I suppose, understand their perspective if you presume that the mere absence of strong Christian advocacy in most RPGs amounts to a direct promotion of these other worldviews; except I'm quite sure that most RPG writers are not actually "presenting what they believe".  I certainly don't honestly believe that Gnomes really exist and are out to kill us all, nor do I believe in the literal existence of Indra or other Indian gods as the kind of mythological beings seen in the ancient Vedas, or in my Arrows of Indra RPG. 
I know that Tracey Hickman is a Mormon, and not a believer in the pagan pantheon of Dragonlance, M.A.R. Barker was a Muslim and not a believer in the weirdo-gods of Tekumel, and Gary Gygax was a fairly devout Christian in real life rather than a follower of Pelor.  I guess its possible, maybe even probable, that some of the WoD authors were new-agers or pagans or Wiccans, but I suspect the vast majority of them didn't believe that Vampires or Faeries were real.  So certainly the argument that other RPGs are not expressly presenting a Christian worldview does not equivocate to meaning that they are expressly meant to present what the authors do in fact believe (and that this is an anti-christian worldview). 

There's something about this kind of work that tends to remind me of a statement by the cartoon character Hank Hill regarding "Christian Rock": "this doesn't make Christianity better, it just makes rock worse".  The real question is just how heavy-handed a treatment Sixcess will be. 

Before taking a careful look at that, I ought to address the question of why this subject matters in the first place, from the reviewer's point of view.  There are two reasons: in the first place, there is the aforementioned question of just how much the actual "christian worldview" ends up affecting the game itself.  That will be examined later.  But even aside from that, even if we should assume that it does not have a major impact on the game itself, this would then beg the question of why they chose to bring it up in the first place?  The second point is that there are going to be people, potential readers, who will (for whatever reasons) not like the game just because of this statement.  So in that sense, I think its very fair that I bring it up; its not about what I think of their religion, but that it would be disingenuous of me NOT to mention it in a review that could potentially lead people to purchase the game.  If someone bought the game and I had not mentioned this, they could (reasonably) expect I misled them.  I'll note that when I spoke with him in the "All-stars" panel, Ben also stated that this was the very same reason why he was so explicit about his Christianity in the introduction of the book; he didn't want anyone accusing him of using "stealth tactics".

So I'm not judging their Christianity, but I am saying that it is clearly relevant, to them and to potential purchasers, that they have made the choice of starting the very book itself by emphasizing their belief system.  I don't think a game-designer's religion matters at all if it does not explicitly manifest in an RPG manual in such a way that their belief system is being promoted; but here they are clearly promoting their religion in the product.  Some people might find that a bold statement like theirs is admirable, some might share the same beliefs and appreciate the game for that reason, others might not care one way or the other if the game is playable. And of course, some might find the game distasteful on the same basis.

There is of course another question, which is whether Sixcess Core is a good game outside of the question of the Christianity of its authors.  We'll be exploring that too.

So at its core (pardon the pun), Sixcess Core is a generic RPG, one of those that says (in its back-cover blurb) "there are no limits" in terms of what you can do with it.  I have to say that I'm not very partial to generic universal RPGs these days; usually, even the ones that can do "anything" can't actually do most of those things better than a specific gamed aimed at emulating a specific genre.

On top of that, Sixecess' system is a dice pool, which is also generally not one of my favorite type of systems.  Within that, its a dicepool that uses D6s (as you might have guessed from the name) and uses both variable difficulty ("TN") numbers AND counting successes, which makes it pretty much the type of dice-pool system I'm most biased against.

There's nothing radically innovative about the basic system. You roll pools of attribute + skill, have to count numbers of successes at or above the TN number, and rolls of 6 explode to allow for extra potential successes.  1s optionally take away successes.  Rolling all 1s is a fumble, while rolling a number of successes equal to the TN number is a critical.  If your skill rating alone is higher than the TN number you can choose to just take an "automatic success" (which counts as if you'd rolled a single success on the attempt).  There are some other variable details too, like that you can choose to sacrifice one or more dice from your pool to lower the TN by 1 for each die sacrificed; plus there are rules for opposed or resisted tests (combat are typically the latter, where you have to get more successes than the person resisting), cumulative tests where successes are tallied over multiple rolls, and focus or reaction tests which are used for specific circumstances (the former for maintaining concentration, the latter for judging charisma effects).

So on the whole, the basic system is less complicated than Shadowrun, probably more complicated than Savage Worlds.  It doesn't really have anything that makes me look in amazement, its all pretty average.

Characters have a set of standard attributes (charisma, intellect, perception, fitness, reflexes and willpower). Willpower can be used as a kind of pool of its own to assist in checks. Derived attributes 'drive' and 'visage' govern initiative and reaction checks.

Then there are also the special attributes: "Powers" is used to govern all special powers that function as substitutes for skill, be it superpowers, kung-fu special abilities, psionics, spells, etc. 
"Sorcery" and "Faith" can serve as particular kinds of powers; and here we get back to the "Christian worldview" of the game.  We are told that ALL supernatural forces but one, that is "any other entity besides the one, true and only God of the universe" (yes, that is a quote) is powered by Sorcery, including "false gods, masquerading demons, seducing spirits", etc.; and that "by its very nature Sorcery is evil, selfish, self-serving and destructive".  So again, in this setting, if you are relying on any spiritual power other than God, be it Zeus, Krishna, Allah, Buddha, or Pelor, you are "lost, a plaything for evil powers that lie, cheat and steal... through a slow, steady corrupting influence".  That's right, every other divine source is a DEMON.

But wait, what about Faith?  Maybe the game implies that actually if you're a good person but happen to worship a god with a different name you are still using Faith? Maybe it's like C. S. Lewis implied and people who worship all those demonic other deities but are good people are actually worshiping Jesus without realizing it? I mean, that would still suck ass, but would be marginally better than what the above paragraph sounds like, right?

Wrong.  In the entry on Faith we are told EXPLICITLY that "FTH is not simply 'believing in something'... this is specifically faith in the one true and only God of the universe. Regardless of the gameworld, there is only one God - YHVH".
This is also the only RPG I've run into that actually uses Scripture to justify a game mechanic!  We are told that Faith costs character points to acquire specifically because "Jesus said in Luke 14:27-28 'And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.  For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?' There is a cost to Faith".

We are also told that a character can of course abandon his faith, and that if he does turn his back to God and follow another path he may NOT regain Faith later, because "God declares that to be the only unforgiveable sin" (apparently, the parable of the prodigal son did not sink in with these folks; I, at least, interpret the "Sin against the Holy Spirit" to be something quite different than what they claim here).
You can boost Faith by "time spent focused on the Lord" and "avoiding physical pleasures". Spending time "in fellowship and Praise" also provides a "small boost" to Faith.

Anyways, moving right along.  The combat system is relatively thorough, with a lot of details on conditions, modifiers for all sorts of things, rules on things like fatigue, social combat, morale, vehicles, and more than a few optional rules to simulate different types of genre.

Character creation is only presented after all this, which I find an interesting choice, in the sense of being somewhat counter-intuitive, but that might work for others. PCs start being created by determining priorities, ordering Powers, Order (social class), Wealth (resources), Essence (how good his attributes are) and Readiness (how good his skills are) on a scale.  I seem to recall something similar to this in certain editions of Shadowrun, which the rules system in general seems reminiscent of (without being a purely blatant copy).
I will say that this is at least vastly preferable to the notion of "here's 400 points, go nuts".  This way at least the structure immediately reduces possibilities for min-maxing, and thus character creation.  By the looks of things, making a character (a normal, viable character) would still be very far from the five-minute process that most OSR-fans enjoy. 

Unfortunately, this does also have some negative side-effects.  In my Dark Albion houseruled D&D game, for example, I have social class as a randomly-rolled quality.  This is separate from attribute rolls; so you can have a high noble who has great stats, a high noble with lousy stats, a serf with very poor stats, or a serf with great stats.  In Sixcess core, the priority system means that there are already certain things you can't have: all Nobles, for example (which are generated by making 'order' your primary selection) will never ever be the ones with the very best power ranks, or the highest number of points in attributes.  In fact, because wealth is yet another separate category, you can't even have a noble who is also the wealthiest man in the kingdom!
There are some optional, very general professions which only offer guidelines for the creation of more "archetypal" characters. 
You also get some "edges" (boons for the character), "flaws", and "qualities" (which are quirks that act as both boon and flaw). We're also provided with templates for two-dozen or so races, which work as a kind of package of attribute modifiers, edges, and flaws.  There's also backgrounds, which can only be taken during character creation, and have variable cost depending on whether they're minor or major backgrounds.

There's 11 backgrounds, about 150 edges, and about 100 flaws.  Only 1 sample quality is given ("Dangerous beauty", which gains all the benefits of the "beautiful" edge but can also draw unwelcome attention due to their beauty), with the argument that qualities must somehow be based on the gameworld.  This seems fairly odd to me, since it seems to me that many of the edges and flaws would also depend on the game world!  In fact, the only possible argument in favor of having a gigantic smorgasbord of edges and flaws is to try to fit the "universal generic" model of system design.
The argument against this, of course, is that it threatens to slow character creation to a halt as players try to navigate their way through immense shopping lists of stuff; worse still if you have very 'min/max' type players who will try to pick apart these edges and flaws for characters that are as mechanically ideal as possible.  Of course, I despise open lists of edges/flaws for those very reasons.  You can kind of argue it is a necessary evil for generic systems, but really there are other better ways.

Then to compound the problem, you have well over 100 skills. These run the gamut of variety, and tends toward specialization, so that somehow acrobatics, climb, dodge, juggle, leap and run are all different skills; implying that an acrobat would be no better than any other human at climbing, leaping, or dodging.  He does have the option of choosing a "skill style", which costs one extra point (keep in mind that if his skills had been 3rd of 5 in priority he'd only have 14 skill points to distribute!); so for an extra point he could be extra good at balance, though still suck at leaping or climbing. Anyways, I would think, in case the author wants some advice for a future edition, that it might be better if there could be groupings of similar skill types; a player could points into a type, which would then default to different levels in ALL skills related to that type.  But whatever, what I really think is that skills should be assigned by class, randomly rolled or omitted altogether to save time (but that's just me).

Now, here's one odd little detail, for which first I must clarify that the author does not cite Christianity or quote scripture on every page. Far from it.  When you skip past the section on "Faith" and "Sorcery", for a good long while, this book looks to all purposes like a typical RPG book.  But then SUDDENLY, out of nowhere, direct scriptural quotation appears in the skills section; only not in ALL of the skills, no. In fact, scripture is NOT quoted at all in the section on "powers", on "magic" or even on "Prayer"! Instead, the bible gets quoted suddenly, unexpectedly, and exclusively in the section related to Social Skills.   For some reason, the author didn't feel like he needed to quote holy verse for the "artillery" skill, or for the "healing" skill, or the "astrology" skill, but for Social Skills, he suddenly had to quote the book of Psalms four times.  But that's not all, he immediately precedes those quotes (Ps. 65:2-3, Ps. 52:2, Ps. 57:4, and Ps. 116:11; and then Rev. 21:8 in the next page under "detect lies") with a quote from INXS!
I fucking kid you not. That's the moment my mind just went "pop". I can get it, I can get wanting to share your holy book. But seriously?! You share what I can only assume you feel is the sacred and infallible word of god from THE MOST IMPORTANT BOOK IN THE WORLD, with a quote from a second-rate band of the 1980s??
I myself have lots of holy books, and yet I would still consider it minor-rate blasphemy to do that. Seriously, what were you thinking?! It just seems so sophomoric.  I can, even as a game designer, excuse the not-particularly-innovative system, the point buy, the dice pools, the variable TNs AND counting-of-successes, all of that I can still let pass; but as a religious historian I just can't find mixing the songs of David with the songs side-by-side with the songs of Michael Hutchence.

Anyways, after that the scripture-quoting stops as suddenly and inexplicably as it started. And after the skills, we move on to Items. This chapter starts with an interesting description of some unusual materials, things like cold steel, mithril, stone molding, tritanium, shadesilk, wraithstone, and other unusual substances to make objects out of.   These are quite cool, but after four pages of this, we switch over to a very standard very conventional list of items with their (generic) cost. There's a very big list of ancient and modern items, weapons, armor, etc.

The "Powers" section gives some more information on how to handle special powers.  Its notable that in this section, in spite of Sixcess being designed to be a generic game, the only powers that are explicitly designed are set up to act as "magic" powers for a fantasy game. Psionics and Superpowers only get a sidebar explaining how you could use the same list of magic powers to work for superpowers, which I find a less than satisfactory method.  I presume the plan is that future sourcebooks will cover stuff like superpowers in way more detail.  I should note that later on in the book there are rules for how a GM can generate his own powers, so the enterprising GM could go ahead and do that.

Contrary to what the whole "Sorcery/faith" thing suggested earlier in the book, in this section it clarifies that there are actually three kinds of fantasy powers: (evil) Sorcery, Miracles (faith, explicitly faith in the Judeo-Christian God), and Magic.  Of the third, we are told Magic is "neutral", neither good nor evil, and it is based on natural life-energy, rather than on consorting with demons or faith in God.  This at least gives non-Christians who want to play this game as-is some wiggle room, though it still means that if you want to play a spellcaster who's magic comes from Thoth or the Wiccan Goddess then you have to either create a character who uses Sorcery and is being tricked by demons, or who is using Magic and has simply deluded themselves as to the source of their power.  In Sixcess, every god that isn't the Christian God is either really a demon, or doesn't exist at all. 
There's a decent list of about thirty powers in the book.  Not bad, and may be enough to handle a fantasy game, but hardly all-encompassing.

Next we get a list of nine sample characters, complete and ready to play; each gets a full-page statblock and a very well-drawn colour illustration. Nothing wrong with that.  We also get a list of 34 NPC "Contacts", some quite interesting, all with a small but complete statblock entry and a b&w mugshot, also well drawn.  I'll mention again that the art is very well done in the book, and they make a good use of both colour and B&W, for effect.

The bestiary provides some simple guidelines (but not really any kind of complete system) for creating monsters, and presents a list of about 48 creatures (plus some sub-headings). Most of these are pretty much fantasy-standard, you've got your undead, lycanthropes, common dangerous animals, centaurs, kraken, etc. Plus a few amusing entries, like the Jackalope, or the Were-claus (a monstrous lycanthropic version of Santa).  You get entries on "spiritual beings" too, like Demons and Angels; these include some biblical/religious references, but really given that this is where the archetypes come from, that's not a bad thing in this particular case.

Finally, you also get statblocks for very standard generic "villains": mooks, thugs, henchmen, minions, bosses, plus things like "psycho killers", "killer robots", "galactic overlord soldiers" (with an accompanying drawing that very clearly shows they mean "stormtroopers"), and the local castle (or apartment complex) "knut".  There's an entry for Cthulhu too, but its been redacted.

The section on "Game Mastering" is largely pretty standard, explaining some potential styles of GMing and types of players, and basic suggestions on scenario-design; the sort of thing that can be useful to beginners and worthless for very experienced gamers. 
There is one point I found very amusing: it has a section on "role-player vs. Roll-player", more to try to describe the difference between the two (alleged) types rather than condemn one style.  So that's pretty funny but what's funnier still is the part where the author suggests that its "roll-players" who are more likely to enjoy random tables and random character generation because they are more concerned with dice rolls and rules.  No, dude, its precisely because we like Roleplaying more that we like randomness in character generation: the guys who want to "character optimize" in a randomless minutiae-obssessed point-buy system where they're in total control of everything to create the most effective character for what they already envision wanting to be able to do are far less "roleplayers" than the guys who want to end up rolling a Dex4 Halfling with a randomly-generated cursed chicken and then have to figure out how to make that viable and interesting!

The GM section does offer a few "optional" rules to modify the core game system, including a one-paragraph option of skipping the edges, flaws, and backgrounds; though unfortunately it offers no concrete guidelines about how to do this and maintain balance (or even make the "priorities" system of character generation work!).  So its kind of a throwaway line.  The author even reminds you that "some relish the idea of poring over pages and picking the exact suite of edges, flaws, backgrounds and details to make their character".  Yeah, those guys are totally way more "roleplayers" than the guys who don't like poring over rules...

The experience points system is detailed here, and it too is fairly standard for this type of game.  You get 8-10 points (recommended) per session and spend these points to advance in attributes, powers, skills, etc.  One interesting detail is that you get xp for group objectives achieved, and also individual xp for creativity, pushing the game along, humour, roleplaying.. and "the Blessings of Y'shua".  That's "Jesus" if you didn't already guess.  Yes, you get 1 extra xp point per adventure if your character doesn't kill, steal, lie, cheat, or commit "sexual impurity" and has a "focus on sharing the truth with everyone they encounter".

This section also has rules on creating powers,  the guidelines in this case are very detailed and complex; but I think that's the kind of thing someone who would like Sixcess' system would enjoy, so its probably a good choice. These rules certainly look complete enough that they would at least go a long way to providing more of that promise of universality.

A couple of helpful appendices round out the book; one with a detailed example of character creation; another with a big reference table of skills, edges and flaws. Finally, there's an index and a character sheet.

So to reach some conclusions:  Sixcess Core is not a terrible RPG.  Its just not an exceptional one in any meaningful way; other than the fact that it includes some explicit Christian themes (in the system itself, not just setting).  Its dice pool system is workable if you like that kind of thing, but offers nothing radically new.  Its not quite as detailed or truly universal as GURPS, not as fast and smooth as other games.  If you don't like point-buy dice-pool games, you obviously wouldn't like Sixcess.  If you do like those games, you probably already have a favorite and there's a good chance you'll like that favorite more than Sixcess.

I think that if you are very interested in playing a game that clearly operates from a Christian (protestant, basically) viewpoint, then Sixcess might be good for you. I'll note at the same time that if you aren't that way, unless you're one of these people who really dislikes anything Christian on pure principle, you also won't have a huge problem with the Christian elements as they can be excised fairly easily via houseruling.  Even so, that still leaves the problem of this game not really, at this point at least, having that much to offer.  I say 'at this point' because I don't doubt that Ben Rogers has very big plans, and we'll have to see where those plans lead.  If this system had a really amazing setting or two, it might make it viable.  Until then, there's not much reason to get on board yet.

Conclusion: the system is acceptable but nothing great. The Christianity is forgivable. The INXS isn't.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Oversize + H&H's Beverwyck

Wednesday 29 January 2014

On "Fake Nerd Girls"

You may or may not have heard that some controversy has been making the rounds lately, of certain people claiming that there’s a subset of girls in the nerd scene that are “fake”, that are only in it… what, because nerd stuff is cool now? To find themselves a man?  I don’t know.

Look, this is the most asinine thing I’ve heard nerds say in a long time.

Its very simple, if you’re at a geek event (be it a gaming night, a con, the local gaming store, or whatever), and you see a girl there and you don’t know if she’s a “fake nerd girl” or not, ask yourself these two simple questions, genius:

1. Is she being paid to be there?

2. Has she been clearly reluctantly dragged there by a soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend even though she clearly has no interest in the proceedings?

If its not either of the above, then she’s a real nerd girl, you morons.

No really, I understand, you spent your entire life thinking “I can’t get a girlfriend because I’m a nerd and girls don’t think we’re cool”, and now nerd-everything IS cool, and yet you still don’t have a girlfriend.  Well guess what, its not because the girls are just “pretending” to like superheroes or RPGs or Star Wars or LoTR or board games, or any of the other stuff you like, its not that “if only she was a REAL nerd girl then she’d like me”; its just YOU. 

There were plenty of us who were able to have and keep girlfriends back when nerd stuff wasn’t cool, and likewise, those of you who are odious enough not to be capable or deserving of either Attempted Reproduction or Human Companionship are not going to be any less odious to a girl because she thinks Legolas is dreamy.  Its legolas she likes, not you.

The good book said it best, I think, when it sayeth (AL 2:57) “He that is righteous shall be righteous still; he that is filthy shall be filthy still”.

In this case, filthy is pretty much literal.

So get over it, dudes, the Nerd Girls are real, its your excuse for why you didn’t have a girlfriend that turned out to be fake.


Currently Smoking: Castello Fiammata + Image Perique

(originally posted December 8, 2013, on the old blog)

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Famous Pipe Smokers

Today's entry is on a guy who was mainly known as a pipe smoker, but also as a major plot hook for at least two or three different RPG genres:

Yes, I'm talking Admiral Richard Byrd.  Aside from being quite a decent pipe smoker, he also:
-Claimed to have been the first man to fly over the North Pole (pulp?)

-May have faked that claim (true crime? Hollow Earth? Two-fisted Tales?)

-Later tried to make the first non-stop trans-atlantic flight, but was beaten by Lindbergh ("In Harm's Way: Aces in Spades?")

-Flew over the South Pole, then also spent five months in an antarctic station alone, where he almost died.  (some kind of occult thriller?)

-Led the largest american expedition (4000 men) to the Antarctic just after the end of world war two, in a military project called Operation High Jump. Rumours abounded that this mission somehow involved looking for secret nazi survival bases in the south pole. (Two Fisted Tales?)

-The mission was very abruptly terminated, six months early, and the official reason has remained top secret to this day (Cthulhu?)


Currently Smoking: Stanwell Compact + Image Latakia

Monday 27 January 2014

UnCracked Monday

Originally, I'd planned on posting something about the 40th anniversary of D&D.  Then I figured to post about the picture of Peter Capaldi's doctor in costume.

But you know, I think that this is far more interesting: did you know that every time you had to fill out one of those stupid 'recaptcha' things to prove you're human, you were actually handing over a single-word of manpower transcribing documents for Google?

In any case, the link above casually mentions that while talking about a popular new game app that allows you to learn a new language; the app is free but uses the same opportunistic principle Google's recaptcha does by actually engaging the player/learner in doing translation work.  Fascinating stuff, the way people are making money in the future... million dollar companies are selling you things not for money but for work-time barter (sometimes without you even realizing it).


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Egg + Gawith's Navy Flake

Sunday 26 January 2014

Lords of Olympus Q&A: Where The Pundit Admits a Glaring Omission

This is a continuation of the Q&A thread on Lords of Olympus, which can be found on theRPGsite; at the Official Amber DRPG, Erick Wujcik, and Lords of Olympus Forum.  If YOU have a question for me about Lords of Olympus, please feel free to post it there and I will try my utmost to respond to it within a week's time, both on the forum and here on my blog.

So, on to the current update:

Evermasterx asked:
Q: Dear RPGPundit,
in the description of Scrying you wrote:
"This power allows a character to see glimpses of unknown, distant places or the hidden fabric of the universe that reveals secrets about the present, past, or future."
It's seems from what follows in the book that one can only scry the present and the future (divination). Can you say more about scrying the past?
Or do you mean that you can discover something about the past only through what remains of it in the present

A: Wow, thank you for pointing this out! I think maybe its one of the most glaring problems someone has detected yet.
The fact is, somehow this escaped me. It had been my intention, originally, to include details on how scrying could express details about the past. Obviously, somewhere in between the planning stages and the execution, I plumb forgot. That's all on me.

So let's look at how, within the context of the system as it is, someone with Scrying to could use it to get glimpses of the past.

Scrying Places, people, and things: Scrying can be used to observe the Present moment in distant places. I think it would also make a lot of sense that Scrying could be used to obtain glimpses of the past of places, people, and things. However, the big limitation I would put on this is that unlike scrying the present, in order to make enough of a psychic link to be able to observe the past, the Scryer must actually be physically present at the place in question, or have the person or thing in physical contact with them. So you can get a vision of a subject's past through that connection at the same level (based on Ego Class) as you would scrying the future.
So again, someone with Olympian Class or higher Ego will be able to get a clear and detailed vision; though of course it is entirely possible that the particular context of the vision may not be immediately clear.

I would suggest as a guideline to GMs that they should try to consider whatever is the most significant event, which left the most intense impact, on the past of the person, place or thing in question. Thus, this may or may not be useful; it may not be directly relevant to what the PC wishes to know about; on the other hand, it may provide the PC with some kind of important information that they hadn't expected, perhaps on a subject that might be of some use in any case, or in the future.


Currently Smoking: Stanwell Deluxe + Image Perique

Saturday 25 January 2014

Proof of Intentional Storygamer Subversion of Wikipedia

Hello, dear readers.  What would you think of a group so desperate to push their agenda that they will try to viciously take over a project, a very noble project, supposedly intended to serve to provide accurate an honest knowledge for the betterment of mankind? What would we say about someone who went in there and intentionally altered truth into lies, manipulated the policies of the site to eliminate from the common pool of human knowledge those things that he personally did not like, that he didn't want others to know about?

I personally would call them the fucking scum of the earth.  On pure principle, whether I agreed with their personal politics or not, even if I thought their actual ideology was 100% right and pure, say if it was someone trying to stand up for Pipe Smoking, Coffee Drinking, Kittens, Chocolate Chip Cookies and Blow Jobs (all things I quite enjoy and generally support on principle), I would still find a person who went on wikipedia and tried to intentional alter, distort, or outright butcher truth; or manipulate what I think is one of the most important websites in the world to serve his own petty ends; to be someone absolutely beneath contempt. To attack knowledge itself, and in the process tarnish and harm the  quality and efficacy of an undertaking as noble and important as Wikipedia, puts you one step below lamb-rapist in my books.

And yet that's exactly what Storygamers feel they have no problem doing.  Its been an open secret that for years now they've been campaigning on wikipedia, infesting its list of editors like they try to infest everywhere else, making sure there were lengthy wikipedia entries on games almost no one plays and Forgist "game designers" almost no one has heard of. And if that was the only things they're doing, however smarmy and self-serving, then fine; those are the rules of wikipedia: what gets put up there depends on who's willing to get on and write things up. So if there's a shitload of inordinately lengthy entries for phenomenally-unpopular games because the Forgists put in extra hours, you can't really blame them, and if certain other games or forums or designers don't have their own wikipedia page because their supporters and fans have never bothered to get off their asses to post one, tough titties.

But that's not all they're doing, and here's some proof:
If you will, check out the wikipedia entry on "Diceless Games".  A pretty standard entry.   Now, the other day the erstwhile fans of the Lords of Gossamer and Shadow RPG noticed they were not on the list of Diceless Games there, and said so in a thread (and promptly went on to add it).  At the same time, I noticed that Lords of Olympus wasn't on there; and pointed it out.  Only it turns out that Brett Bernstein, owner of Precis Intermedia Games and publisher of Lords of Olympus had added LoO to that list quite some time ago, only now we found it gone.

A bit of investigation revealed why.  It was deleted, by a person named "neonchameleon".  It was removed for being "non-notable".  Even though it was the first major Diceless RPG in years.  Even though it was the top-selling game Precis ever published, if I'm not mistaken, and the most profitable RPG I've ever written.  Even though it has sold far more copies than 90% of the Forge games that have entries.
Note that it was the ONLY entry removed from the "Diceless RPGs" wikipedia entry.  The entry on "Troika Moira", a game whose sales were practically non-existent compared to LoO's, and who almost no one has ever heard of in comparison and garners, for example, 7580 results on a google search compared to 291000 results for LoO, remained utterly untouched.  In fact, if you go by quotation-mark-encased google searches for the games' title, Lords of Olympus gets more results than Active Exploits (43200),  Everway (224000), Lords of Gossamer and Shadow (63900), the term "Marvel Universe RPG" (22600) or "Marvel Universe Roleplaying Game" (6280). 
So in fact, only Theatrix, Nobilis, and Amber itself have a grater claim of "Notability" than Lords of Olympus.  And yet, Lords of Olympus, a game that sold better than about 90+% of RPGs published in 2012, a game which gets nearly three hundred thousand hits on google, a game with active online communities and dedicated web pages, was the only rpg removed from the list. Why is that?

Well, it might be because Neonchameleon is a storygames swine. That's his blog where he talks about the wonder and innovation of storygames.  Here's a link to his writing on the Storygames Forum, where he expresses his hatred for D&D.

So apparently the real quality for judging notability ought to be that it was notable enough for Neonchameleon to hate it, or more likely me, to betray every standard of accuracy as a wikipedia contributor in order to satisfy petty personal hatreds.

We have put Lords of Olympus back on the list.  But I think people should now be on alert for this man, and others like him, because unless they are confronted and shamed for what they are doing (and potentially, unless proper authorities on Wikipedia are alerted), they will likely keep right on trying to erase history, accuracy and truth in order to try to present the twisted worldview they want to force on the rest of us.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Quiete + Rattray's Accountants Mix

Friday 24 January 2014

Getting Over Charisma as "Dump Stat"

There’s this sensation, particularly in old-school play, that Charisma is the one irrelevant stat; that if you have a choice (often in old-school you don’t, depending on how your GM makes you roll things up), its the one you’ll put your lowest score into. In newer-school design, there is an attempt to solve this problem with having CHA related to certain powers, or to resisting certain effects.

But in fact, this is not necessary.  I argue that if you are running your D&D game with 3 particular details intact, then Charisma is in fact the one ability score that can theoretically be important for any class (maybe along with Constitution):

1. You use NPC Retainer and Morale rules.  In my Albion game (likewise Arrows of Indra), if someone has servants, henchmen, or followers of any kind, or if he is a commander in battle; its his CHA modifier that affects “his” NPCs’ loyalty or morale.  This means that the guy who wants to be a great general will probably need a good Cha bonus more than a good attack bonus, even.  It also means its your manservants who will be the least likely to screw you over, or run like morons when the first bugbear attacks.

2. Monster Reaction Tables: When first encountered, not all creatures are automatically hostile, or automatically not; for the vast majority you check on a reaction roll. If your PC is alone, or the forward scout, or the party leader, or some other way prominent, his CHA modifier should affect that roll. It might make the difference between a monster that charges right at you, and one that hesitates for a round; or one that would just hesitate and one that might try to parley rather than attack.  That can make a huge difference in a game, when you’re literally not someone who “looks like bad news” and will be more likely to not be ambushed by paranoid humanoids.

3. NPC Reaction Tables: the big one, of course.  Your Charisma should affect all NPC reactions; affecting everything from whether you’ll get the best deal selling your treasure in the market, to whether you will be well-treated by the nobility or the clergy, whether you will be able to talk your way out of a tight spot with nothing more than excuses or promises, even whether you will be granted an audience, or a stay of execution, from the King.

I would go one further on this: character with the highest charisma attribute should be seen by NPCs, at least ones who have no other thing to go on, as the “leaders” of the party. They should be the one the NPCs want to see, want to talk to, and think are in charge (again, assuming things like social class or fame being equal).  The GM should make sure to make it clear to his group that generally speaking things go better for them when Character A with his +2 Cha bonus is doing the talking for them, than when they’re all trying to speak at once, or definitely better than when Character B with his -2 Cha penalty is the one trying to speak.

Now, you’ve heard me before argue about the virtues of avoiding “social skills” and social mechanics.  For sure. To me Charisma represents your raw likeability.  The guy with the +2 Cha bonus in the above example still has to be able to know what’s the right or wrong thing to say, and when and how to say it; the +2 Cha bonus just means that if he does act like a boor or say the worst possible thing, he’s more likely to be forgiven than the guy with a Charisma penalty.  On the other hand, its up to the PLAYER to know what the right thing at the right time is.  And if Character A’s player is a fucking idiot who always sticks his foot in his mouth, the party may decide they’re better off choosing to have Character B speak for them, even with the -2, because at least his player will know enough to say the right thing, and then have a CHANCE of succeeding.  While Character A wouldn’t, if he says the wrong things, no matter what his Cha modifier is.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Bent Billiard + Image Latakia

(originally posted December 4, 2012; on the old blog)

Thursday 23 January 2014

#rpgnetchat All-Stars Q&A

So as of tonight, 7:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, I, the RPGPundit, along with a few other heroes of the RPG world, will be gathered at the JSA Brownstone.. I mean, #rpgnet chat; where I will be engaged in answering questions from the audience and discussion with my fellow luminaries.
To attend, if you don't know where #rpgnet chat is, click this link:

The format will be an open discussion between the guests, with questions submitted to our moderator, Dan Davenport (himself famous for being the second-best RPG book reviewer in the hobby) for the guests from the audience.

As well as myself, the guest list will include figures like Angus Abranson (ex of cubicle 7, now I believe the Chronicle City guy), Ben Rogers (Christian RPG designer), Benoist Poire (moderator at theRPGsite and part-time stalker of Gygax's descendents), Brett Bernstein (who gave up making Politically Incorrect Games to make Precis Intermedia Games, whatever those are; in any case, publisher of Gnomemurdered and Lords of Olympus, which are both pretty politically incorrect), C. J. Carella (who wrote a shitload of amazing Palladium RPG products, and some stupid game about wicca), Cynthia Celeste Miller (who's a woman! And has also written some superhero rpgs), George Vasilakos (who wrote All Flesh Must Be Eaten), James Sutton (Fading Suns, if I recall correctly), Jason L. Blair (Little Fears), Kenneth Hite (who needs no introduction, he's mostly famous for being Kenneth Hite anyways), Margaret Weis (Dragonlance, plus a bunch of other stuff that shockingly made Dragonlance seem less boring by comparison), Shane Ivey (Delta Green maestro), Timothy Joe Kirt (Hearts & Souls, High Valor), Rafael Chandler (author of the Teratic Tome) and Wade Rockett (who sounds like he should be in porn; that name is wasted on the RPG industry).

Plus there's like over a dozen guys I've never heard of, like Eloy Lasanta, who's published some things that have never ever crossed my path and sounds like he was named after the wussy guys from the future in the Time Machine; Ian Stewart, who's name is so common a plain google search reveals no useful information; and "T Glenn Bane", who I can only assume is the love child of Glenn Beck and the demon Bane.

Anyways, in short, a ton of RPG celebrities who still somehow all end up individually and collectively being slightly less worth talking to than me.  But its ok, because I'm there too!

Tune in for the fun, it starts in just a few hours.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Volcano + H&H's Beverwyck

Wednesday 22 January 2014

The Eco-future I want, and the Kind I Don't

Over on theRPGsite, we've been debating an old blog entry of mine related to a series of predictions or "prophecies" made over the last 20 years by Professional Environmentalist Activists, including very major and well-known figures like Al Gore and David Suzuki, have made about coming eco-apocalypses that turned out not to actually happen.  There's been some interesting conversation there, as well as some general obstructionism from people who want to believe Climate Change isn't a real thing on the one side, and people who want to immediately tar anyone who questions the statements of the Environmentalist Lobby as 'anti-science' or 'climate deniers' on the other.  

I'll state, like I always do in these entries, that I do accept the reality of Climate Change.  That isn't what's at issue here.  And that's why this cartoon, however cute, is utterly pointless:

Very amusing, except that it intentionally ignores the real issue. The issue isn't that there's a group out there that doesn't want to create a better world; its that there's a group out there who's vision of a "better world" (and one that they use Climate Alarmism, eg. failed prophecies to try to push forward as "the ONLY choice left or the the world will literally burn in two years!!" etc) is not what most people would think of as a "better world".  The Back-to-the-Cave crowd who cry out the hardest for immediate and radical action focused not on innovation but on "sustainability" don't want a world of "healthy children", they want a world with 5/6ths less human children around; but they've gotten very very good at making out anyone who dares to question them in any way as being the ones who are against "giving our children a future".

But let's look at the future they want for children:

I don't think a world where my theoretical children are given a Calorie Ration Card, are told they're allowed one shower per week, only have electricity if the Energy Management Committee judges that the energy from the solar panels on their house aren't better directed to maintaining the lights in the luxury condos for the Ecointern, where they're told what kind of job they can or can't have, where they're allowed or not allowed to live or travel, where they're not allowed to own a car because resources are just too scarce now and they've had to reassign car-ownership to only Elite Class Citizens, and where a series of tests of physical, mental and political worthiness done at adolescence will determined whether they're one of the 16% who are given a license to breed or if they are sterilized for the good of society.

That's not a better world, and that's the world that the Sustainability-crowd seem to desperately want.

I want a better world where we invent tiny machines that clean up the environment, where someone designs a better solar panel (or a better cleaner Nuclear Reactor, or something that makes energy out of our poop, or anything at all) that puts all the oil out of business within ten years and gets to make himself the 21st century's Rockefeller in the process, where we start looking for resources from the moon, asteroids and other planets; where we design artificial grains and artificial meat that's indistinguishable from the real thing and can finally liberate ourselves from dependency on farming and the massive ecological damage farms cause, and where we create computers that are smarter than us and they give us new answers we never could have figured out ourselves. And in the whole process, we keep getting to shower whenever we want, eat what we want, travel where we want, fuck as much as we want, and keep finding our lifestyle IMPROVE rather than being punished by a group of asshole socialist self-styled intelligentsia for the crime of having been born into the fairest, best, most successful Civilization that has ever existed.


Currently Smoking: Italian Redbark + Gawith's Squadron Leader

Tuesday 21 January 2014

DCC Campaign Update

DCC Update

In the last adventure, on Sunday, the PCs learned:

-that a drunk thief shooting a hand crossbow from under a table can only ALMOST kill an ogre.

-That being the "chosen one" of the Daemon Lord of Death is not a good deal.

-That blinded barons named "Von Kraut" tend to hold grudges.

-That there are hardly any real Clerics in Arkhome. 

-On a related note, that a Cleric's life is full of disappointments and misery.

-That a cursed singing toad CAN be worth something, if you can find the right buyers.

-That even cultists of Bobugbubilz can't agree on how to pronounce his name.

-That, on the other hand, cultists of Bobugbubilz are easier to negotiate with than death cultists or
vengeful barons.

-That there is a very very slow long-term plan afoot to sink the city of Arkhome into a swamp.

-That the gender of the "lord" of Dragons is a subject somewhat up to debate.

-That someone somewhere considered halfling cannibalism a worthy subject of a work of art.

-That halflings that consider erotic human lithographs worth keeping are considered perverts.

-That you can't fool the Goblin Guard all of the time, but you can fool them some of the time.

-That the desert holds an army of the dead waiting to be raised

-That "not today" really is the best thing to say to the Lord of Death.


Currently Smoking: Castello Fiammata + Image Perique

Monday 20 January 2014

UnCracked Monday: D&D Next is Still Trying

Because I think things have been moving along now for so long that some people forget.  That is, that D&D Next, under the leadership of Mike Mearls, is still trying very hard to please everyone. Particularly the old-schoolers.  If this article turns out to be an accurate depiction of what starting a D&D Next campaign is like, then we're on solid ground.

Because the thing is, Mearls doesn't have to get Old Schoolers to leave OSR games for D&D 5e.  That's not what he needs to accomplish.  He doesn't have to make something that scratches their old-school itch better than AD&D 1e; that's just not going to happen.
All he does have to do is make a game that an old schooler can look at and say "yes, I could live with playing/running that".  Because then, by virtue of the sheer number of people who are saying the same, Next will take up a place in the list of games that may not be his favorite but that he is likely to often play.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Rhodesian + Image Latakia

Sunday 19 January 2014

Golden Age Campaign Update

Yesterday's adventure featured no new heroes per se, though the OSS ended up with a new unit of agents dedicated to trying to deal with causes so hopeless that even the Suicide Squad doesn't think them worth risking:

They're called The Losers.

Meanwhile, the PCs met up with the Spy Smasher who revealed that after the final evacuation of the Afrikakorps from Tunisia, a single U-boat brought a valued Nazi agent from that front to New York City for reasons unknown.  While the Mystery Men started to investigate, the Spy Smasher got together a group of his own allies to help.

At the same time, a new hero came on the scene, played by a new Player.  This new mystery man is called "The Inquisitor", the latest in a long line of witch-hunters dedicated to the service of the Roman Catholic Church.  And at the present time he was investigating rumours of black magic being used against Catholic immigrant communities in NYC.

It turned out the two cases were interconnected, as the "Nazi agent" the PCs were looking for was not a German as the Mystery Men initially assumed, but a Moroccan named Mohammed Abdhullah Bey, a disgraced Sufi Sheikh and black magician who had been part of the Free Arabian Legion, a large volunteer force of Middle-Eastern and North African Muslims who fought for Nazi Germany.  It was his intent to use his sorcery to plunge NYC into chaos during the Harlem Riot.   He was thwarted by the Mystery Men (along with Prometheus and The Inquisitor), and the Spy Smasher (along with his allies, the Green Lama, Bulletman and Bulletgirl).  These heroes also did what they could to try to quell the violence of the riot, but came to the sobering conclusion that there are certain problems that masked men with a strong right hook (or even astounding super-abilities) just aren't able to fix with a trite speech or good intentions.  After the conclusion of the mission, the Spy Smasher's group decided to stay together as  semi-formal team called The Crusaders.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia

Saturday 18 January 2014

Lords of Olympus: Getting Started

I had gotten some requests for advice about where to start when running a Lords of Olympus campaign.  I tried to be pretty complete in the GM section when it comes to advice on how to run the game. But here’s some more on it anyways:

What you’re probably looking for is an initial setup; and how that setup will go depends on the type of campaign you’re running: Are you doing a campaign where the PCs start out not knowing their divine parentage? Then the natural thing to work out is what happens at the beginning that starts cluing them into their identity: are they attacked by monsters? Who sent these monsters? Are they contacted by an Olympian? If so, is this one of their parents? Or someone else? Friend, foe, or someone out to manipulate them?

On the other hand, you might be starting a campaign where the PCs know what they are; maybe even grew up on Olympus itself, or at least always knew their parentage. Then where you start will depend a lot on the backgrounds you chose for the players or they chose for themselves.

Did all the players grow up more or less together? Maybe they’re called together by someone (Zeus? One of their parents? Some other big power-guy?) to perform some special task.

Or another way to do it is to start with some big point of conflict. Perhaps an olympian (maybe a parent or other kind of close connection to one or more of the PCs) is apparently killed, and the PCs get drawn into that situation. Maybe there’s a war brewing between a couple of olympians, and the PCs are caught up in having to chose sides?

There are some examples given in the book: maybe there’s a plot (be it from Hera, Hades or Poseidon, or the Titans) to try to overthrow Zeus? Or maybe Zeus is dead and all hell is breaking loose (though it could be one of Zeus’ tricks!). Maybe something really bizarre is happening with the Primordials that could menace reality itself?

The main key is to look at the characters: look at their connections through family, and look at their connections through background (who are their likely friends, and likely rivals or enemies), and look at their connections to each other. There should be a gold mine there of potential events for the campaign, and surely there’s one that can start things off. Figure out what kind of campaign you want to run, and don’t plan every little detail but figure out at timeline of general events you want to start happening in the game.

I hope this helps.  And just remember, over and above everything else, Lords of Olympus is an RPG about a big dysfunctional family. Let that premise guide you.

A reminder to anyone interested in more questions and answers about Lords of Olympus that they can get a lot of information over at the Lords of Olympus forum on theRPGsite (which is also the Official Amber DRPG and Erick Wujcik Forum), and more specifically, any questions asked on this thread will be answered promptly by yours truly.


Currently Smoking: Castello 4k Collection Canadian + Image Latakia

(Originally posted November 16, 2012, on the old blog)

Friday 17 January 2014

"Real Magick" in RPGs: Spellbooks

I've posted previously in this series (on the old blog, but archived here), about some of the misconceptions about how 'occultism' is handled in a lot of allegedly-occult RPGs, and how GMs can modify things to more closely model the reality of the occult scene (a reality that is filled with posers, fakers, and lunatics, but also some truly fascinating stuff).  One of the big ones in modern games is about how occult knowledge is somehow rare or very difficult to access (the classic Call of Cthulhu scenario where magical knowledge is only available in the most obscure places), when the fact is that the problem is not access to that knowledge at all, but the ability to differentiate between the useful and the useless.  I also made a post about how and what a magician's diary looks like, and how these will often be the  most important "grimoires" available in a setting.

Now on the whole I've been focusing on modern settings, but I heard something interesting today on theRPGsite in reference to the "unrealistic" nature of D&D magick.  Someone pointed out that the idea of a magician going around with a spellbook and memorizing spells made no sense.  Magicians should study their books at home, and their spellbooks would be kept safe within lock and key in their towers.

But the truth of the matter is a bit trickier than that.

A magician may very well carry around his magical diaries with him (remember: a grimoire is really nothing more than a heavily-edited magical diary); for two reasons.

First, not to memorize spells but to potentially remember correspondences. There are big tables of correspondences (which are important "components" for magical practice, divination, etc) that someone might be able to memorize, but there's so much to be memorized that a lot of students won't. A good magick student will know the symbols and order of the zodiac, the planets, elements, PROBABLY the Hebrew letters and their number values, and things like the names of gods, elemental signs, the pentagram rituals and hexagram rituals. If he does all that by heart, he's a pretty advanced student (even among serious practitioners; remember, 99% of supposed 'magicians' have barely studied anything at all and don't actually practice any magick).
But even that kind of expert student may not memorize what type of plant corresponds to the moon, or the name of the Angel of the 20th degree of Leo.

Second, you never know when there's going to be new things to write in the diaries!

A magical diary is practically a part of a magician's body; its been repeatedly described by almost all of the great occult authors as the single most important tool of the magician.  You can almost always use it as a litmus test to tell the difference between a serious occultist and a dabbler, dilettante, or fraud: not everyone who keeps a diary will necessarily be doing serious occult work, but anyone who doesn't keep a magical diary is almost guaranteed NOT to be doing serious occult work of any kind.

Thus, the diary is far from an neat and tidy book of instruction (though sometimes material from said diaries are heavily edited to become actual commercial books); they are the frantic scribbles of a madman, and a seriously-obsessed occultist won't be trusting his own recollection to write down some insight or discovery long after the fact, if he can at all help it. He'll want the diary close, so he can record his studies, discoveries, findings or experiences as quickly as possible.


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

Thursday 16 January 2014

Dark Albion Update: 1465

(here's the latest update to the timeline for my Dark Albion campaign setting.  The full information on the setting is available on this thread)

Setting Events: 1465

-William Booth, Archbishop of York, dies of natural causes. His successor is Robert Neville.

-In Arcadia, the Collegium of Cardinals try to limit Pontifex Paulus II's powers, he resists the move.

-Pasha Radu Bey (of the Turk Empire) engages in campaign of forced conversions to the god of the crescent moon in conquered Wallachia.

-Philip of Burgundy makes a great campaign against the Frogmen, comes within eyeshot of Paris; but is wounded. Even so he retook huge swaths of territory from the hated Frogs.

-A band of adventurers go to Scots Land, manage to capture the Mad King outside Berwick and bring him back to Albion; Queen Margaret and her remaining court flee Scots Land for Lorraine where they are welcomed by Prince Louis of Lorraine and the Princess Bona, Louis' daughter who had been promised in betrothal to King Edward of York only to be shunned in favor of Elizabeth Woodville.

-Henry Stafford (age 10), Duke of Buckingham, is married to Catherine Woodville (age 7).

-Queen Elizabeth is pregnant.

-Thomas Beckington, commander of clerical order in Albion, dies in battle after three decades of campaigns against the Frogmen in Calais; his successor is Robert Stillington

In Our Campaign:
One of our characters, "the Doctor" (no, not the timelord, but the most famous physician in Albion by this time in the campaign), has a son.
In this year the characters traveled across the Wall to Scots' Land, where they went on a quest to the Valley of the Jarls; long thought a cursed place by the Scots, it was a burial ground for ancient Northmen Kings, but recently a horde of undead had come streaming out of it attacking the Scots clans, and threatening to reach the Wall.  The Player Characters investigated the tombs and found there a cult of the dreaded demon Dispater.  After much adventure they managed to destroy the cult and end the threat.
The PCs were also the "band of adventurers" in our campaign who managed to capture the Mad King, who had been living in Berwick in exile with the remnants of the Lancastrian forces.  They also faced the Mad King's Magister, Lord de Grey, who had been an ongoing nemesis for the PCs, but he managed to evade them yet again!
Finally, it bears repeating that one of the PCs (who had rolled a 'high noble' social status) is a member of the Woodville family; at this time in the campaign he was enjoying his family's rise to power and influence after his sister's marriage to the (Yorkist) King.   At the same time, he was facing a lot of problems in his own sense of security; he had previously been a member of the Earl of Warwick's (the Kingmaker's) circles, but after the Woodvilles upset his grand schemes and ended up taking the King's favor away from him, Warwick swore revenge against all of their family.  The Kingmaker doesn't act in haste, however, he was playing the long game. This meant that the poor Sir Henry Woodville (the PC) had to spend a long time watching his back, never knowing when revenge might strike.


Currently Smoking: Raleigh Hawkbill + Image Perique

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Putting "RPG Inclusivity" Into Context

We had an interesting discussion over at theRPGsite about "Inclusivity" in RPGs.  Some people get annoyed at what they perceive as the inclusion of "token" inclusive characters in published settings or adventures, particularly characters that seem totally out of place with the perceived society or values of the setting (as one poster put it, more or less, the problem is when you have characters running around in a medieval fantasy setting that seem to have 21st century middle-class liberal west-coast values).  Of course, others also get annoyed at the absence of these same characters.

Now, lately the "refugee crisis" of posters from rpgnet looking to be able to have actual conversations rather than politically-correct-hugbox environments has reached such a fever pitch that we have actual (notorious) rpgnet moderators coming along to write in the free atmosphere of theRPGsite; and I found myself in the amusing position of largely agreeing with a post on this subject by the infamous Modclique member "Future Villain Band", who I believe had some less-than-flattering things to say about me and theRPGsite in the past and yet now has found himself a 168-post-and-counting homestead there.  He pointed out, perhaps expecting disagreement, that it was just as annoying to him to see a setting where there are magical luxuries the real medieval-world didn't have, a presumption of potential female adventurers, and yet for totally arbitrary reasons women couldn't be guards; or where magic (including transformation magic) is plentiful and yet its somehow unheard of to see a transgender character.

Well, as for me, I absolutely agree. Shit, if the setting is one where magic to change your gender is relatively easy, I would think the setting would then all but DEMAND that being a normal thing.

As for sexism, yes, the setting designer should shit or get off the pot: either make it clear that women are equal in the setting or explain why they aren't.
I would almost be equally not-ok with the idea of a world where everything closely follows medieval historical models yet for some reason all women are accepted as equals and get to be half of the king's guard and are regularly taken seriously in positions of power without any explanation; as I would be with a world where society is nothing like medieval historical models and yet for some reason there are no women in the king's guard just because.... the only thing that pisses me off slightly more about the former than the latter is that the latter is just a violation of logic while the former is a violation of both logic and a set-up that actually happened historically (and thus feels like blatant politically-correct historical revisionism).

The bigger issue is that the self-styled champions of inclusivity are usually obsessed with two points that have little to do with their alleged concerns for social justice:  first, they want to paint a picture of regular gamers (and ESPECIALLY OSR/Old-Schoolers) as reactionist dinosaurs who will refuse to play in a setting that isn't all white-heterosexual-males all the time.  Second, they will try to crusade to just cut-and-paste often ridiculously tokenized concepts not so much out of any kind of concern for creating any kind of meaningful 'equality' as much as out of a desire to "punish" those evil OSR-gamers, or to confirm their prejudices about regular gamers by noting their protests while patting themselves on the back as to how much more evolved they are; never understanding that the main 'protest' from the vast majority of regular gamers isn't "we don't want women, minorities or LBGT characters in our D&D!" but rather "what is being done makes no fucking sense".

So in rebuttal, I present to you a little OSR game I wrote called Arrows of Indra. No white guys in it at all. But what it DOES explicitly have is transgendered people in it (there's even one on the cover!).

But hey, before that there was Al-qadim, Rokugan, Kara-Tur, and Tekumel. The first three were very amateurish in the cultural portrayal, and the last too weird to be popular, but each of these featured no-white-guys; in settings that were socially and internally consistent. And the last of these was like the SECOND RPG SETTING EVER (if you count Blackmoor and Greyhawk as having been the same thing at first, which it pretty well was).

The idea that Old-school gamers only want to, or need to, or ever did only play characters that "look" like them is ridiculous.


Currently Smoking: Raleigh Volcano + Brebbia No. 7

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Learning the Trivium Beats Out “Talking about your feelings”

A very interesting article in the Atlantic, about how for 30 years the mainstream of public education in the U.S. (and not only there, I can state that in Canada its the same) felt that you didn’t actually need to teach students how to write a coherent argument, how to write complex sentences, or how to structure their thoughts.

You see, for all that time, the idea is that writing was something that you didn’t want to “restrict” students with, it should be “caught, not taught”, which meant that the feeling was learning how to write (and by default forming coherent arguments) was something that would somehow be picked up by magical osmosis in the process of picking subjects that the teachers felt would be “interesting to the students”, dealing with their own lives and culture, or allowed them to talk about their feelings.

Except of course, it turns out that teaching how to structure a rhetorical argument wasn’t “restricting” the students, it was liberating.  Once this school started to do so again, the students were able to open up their minds and ability to express themselves, and began performing much better in subjects across the board. They were kicking the living shit out of the unfortunate students who were being taught self-esteem, expressing feelings, or talking about things that were relevant to them; none of which are worth fuck all if you don’t actually know how to say anything

Its official: the hippie bullshit artists that took over the faculties of education all over north america (and elsewhere) in the 60s officially destroyed an entire generation of minds by refusing to teach them how to actually think and formulate their thoughts, in the name of utterly delusional sensitivity.


Currently Smoking: Masonic Meerschaum + Image Perique

(originally posted November 2, 2012; on the old blog)

Monday 13 January 2014

DCC Campaign Update

In last night's adventure, which was apparently so good I crashed early and thus am writing this blog entry a day late, the players had quite a bit of fun, consisting in:

-Failing to sell your pop-singing hypno-toad

-Having to avoid the hellhounds of a sorcerous ex-wife

-Engaging in the most hilarious bazaar haggling scene ever

-Being shot at by snipers after their halfling decided to stop for tea and backgammon rather than sounding the alarm.

-Dying due to being mistaken for the wrong halfling.

-Being kidnapped by two spaniards.

-Mistakenly thinking you're naked in front of a gang leader

-Being cursed by the Snake Witch

-Hearing increasingly perturbing rumours about the mad wizard Nicodemus

-Entering into a room with too many fish-men.

-Meeting a suspiciously friendly ghost.

-Facing a horde of skeleton-ballerinas.

-Going one Thermite Grenade too far.

-Finding the room with the most important ring in the world, and then burying it under a ton of rubble.

-Flattering Queen Boo-boo to avoid being eaten by her army of feral halfling punks.

-Winning the favor of the second most powerful person in the entire city; meaning that the most powerful person in the entire city and all his minions will now be trying to kill you.

-Trying to convert the world's most infamous alcoholic to the true faith in a desperate bid to avoid getting 23 stab wounds in the back.

That is all, for today.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia

Saturday 11 January 2014

A Report On My Health

So, my general health tests are in! Let's see how we did, shall we? Given that this year I had the particular joy of having certain online Swine literally wishing-me-cancer, I felt you may all want to know just how healthy the Pundit is (or isn't)!

And the results are: in spite of my ceaselessly advancing age (funny how its always doing that), the fact that I have no dieting regime whatsoever, and eat whatever the fuck I like, with lots of fat, sugar, fried foods, relatively few vegetables, lots of carbs, and lots and lots of delicious red meat...  despite the fact that I sleep maybe 5 hours a night and often work 16 hour days... despite the fact that I do almost no meaningful exercise and lead a largely sedentary lifestyle...  despite the fact that I drink (though not heavily).. despite the fact that I down massive amounts of coffee... and despite the fact that I smoke 4-6 pipes a day...

..I am the very fucking picture of health.

My blood sugar? Its fucking awesome.  Its actually LOWER than it was 3 years ago (last time it was checked) and not just a little lower, like 20 points lower, in spite of no effort on my part in that time.  I went from being "slightly above average" in that category to being very well inside the healthy range.

That's right, motherfuckers, all this is actually making me STRONGER.

Kidneys? Fine.

Blood? Fine; my earlier mild anemia has again vanished.

Cholesterol?  The "bad" cholesterol is very low; the "good" cholesterol is also slightly low: time to slather extra-virgin olive oil on everything.

Prostate? Just dandy.

So there you have it: and to all you suckers who've been relying on diet (fad or otherwise), exercise, or worse, you fucking traitors to your higher self who have actually let your pathetic thanatophobia convince you to forever abandon doing something you love to do (whatever that something is, from cake to coke to the other coke to cock to chocolate and anything in between), suck it.
And worse still, the the prudes and life-denying puritans who had the gall to try to get ME to betray my true Will in this time: FUCK YOU.  Suck my nearly-sugar-free cock.

Now, of course, I'm going to die.  Everyone is.  I might live to see my eleventy-first birthday (all signs are good so far!) or I might die tomorrow from something my medical couldn't detect.  The difference between you guys and myself?  I'll have lived.

I do in fact do some healthy things: I do what I love. I work 16 hour days, at a job I love that I feel passionate about.  I meditate a lot; which doesn't mean you should do that: I think anyone who practices meditation because they're afraid of dying and have read that if you meditate you might live longer will get nothing out of it, probably not even a longer lifespan.  But I might; because I actually love meditation and am not doing it to try to run away from death.
I drink loads of yerba-mate, and green tea, and vietnamese coffee, turkish coffee, italian coffee, uruguayan coffe and any other decent coffee I can think of. Whether or not you think yerba-mate provides 'miraculous vitamin content' or not, these things I think are healthy because I love them too.
And I love the ritual of smoking my pipes; and even if there is some chance that it may be what kills me in the end, its still healthy now, because its what I love.

That's the only real solution: Live as much as you possibly can, until you're totally dead.

Do it enough, and you won't fear death anymore, because you'll have lived.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Horn + Gawith Navy Flake
(+ a pint glass of Vietnamese Iced Coffee)
(+ two thermos' worth of yerba mate)

Friday 10 January 2014

If You Need a "Safe Word" in RPGs, You Might Be Playing The Wrong Games...

So it has come to my attention around the OSR blogosphere that there are actually people suggesting, at this point, that in order to be "sensitive" to those who have "triggers" (and no doubt to "watch our privilege" too) we should all have to use "Safe Words" while playing.

For those of you who don't know what a "safe word" is (and what amazing innocents both of you are after 20 years of the internet being around... seriously, what the fuck are you, Amish?!), it is a term that comes out of BDSM; no, that's not an anime-themed RPG, its "Bondage Domaination Sado-Masochism".  In other words, kink.  Ironic, then, that the Great Porcine Prudes of the Gaming Hobby would have borrowed a term from something they'd no doubt denounce as part of "rape culture".
In short, what a "safe word" means is that if you are in the middle of being spanked, or having something put inside you that probably has no business being there, or in some other way being subject to extreme activities for consensual fun and romp, and suddenly it ('it' being the pain, the intensity, the urge to pee, the handcuffs making your arm fall asleep, or the smells) get to be too much, you can call out your safe word; a word that would not normally be said in the middle of a bondage session (like, say "Tahiti"), and all activity will immediately cease. 

Safe words are very strongly advised if you're going to get involved in anything kinky. It makes sure you are not pushed past the absolute limits of what you can stand. 
But if ANYTHING at all in, say, D&D, a game where you sit around fully clothed eating chips and pretending to be an elf; if anything at all within the spectrum of things that should be socially permitted to do during an RPG, is "past the absolute limits" of what you can stand, then YOU have a very serious problem as a human being.

Seriously? That's what they've seriously come to? I mean what the fuck?? If you need a Safeword in a fucking ROLEPLAYING GAME (the kind that we play in the hobby, not the kind that involve real-life whips or butt-plugs) then how the living fuck do you manage to navigate your way through life?

The people demanding this must clearly be one of two things:
1) Totally crippled human beings, barely able to get out of bed in the morning, shattered by whatever personal hell they live through in their mind's eye every instant; in which case why the fuck are they playing D&D and not hospitalizing themselves in a psychiatric institution?!

or, of course:

2) Utterly cynical self-righteous assholes who know this idea is total bullshit but are using it as a rhetorical tactic in their ongoing struggle to try to portray regular RPGs as something profoundly flawed, unhealthy, and needing of regulation by a tiny elite of "experts" to control the horrific great unwashed that go around playing awful games like D&D. You know, Swine.


Currently Smoking: Stanwell Deluxe + Image Latakia

Thursday 9 January 2014

A Very Revealing Chart About the Complexities of the Muslim World

I was actually going to post on a different subject today, but this was just too fascinating to me as a student of religion and culture, to pass up.

A significant study was recently undertaken throughout multiple Muslim countries. In it, participants were shown a series of pictures of a woman in different types of facial/head covering.  They were asked to identify which of these images depicted a woman most appropriately dressed for working.

These are the results:

So what this says is, to me at least, fascinating. Clearly by far and in general the most popular choice was the conservative but not ultra-conservative white al-amira.   But what's most significant, and remarkable, and goes a very long way to explain the overall fucked-up situation is the most notable outlier: Saudi Arabia.

The problem is that Saudi Arabia has a massive level of influence over the rest of the middle east.  This is a bit like how extra-conservative Texas ends up controlling the production of school textbooks throughout the country because of their printing market.  In Saudi Arabia's case, because they have Mecca and the other holy sites, and control over Hajj pilgrimage process, as well as few other elements like absurd oil-wealth, they get to impose an inordinate level of influence over the rest of the Muslim world.  Saudi Oil Millions have gone into supporting the extreme ultra-conservative wahabist sect and exporting those ideas to the rest of the Muslim world like a cancer; from an historical point of view, had the same study been done even two decades ago, you would have seen radically more liberal percentages across the board.  Unfortunately, its very likely that if this study is repeated a decade from now, barring massive unexpected changes, you will see all of these other nations drifting ever further toward the current Saudi position.

There are some other interesting details to all this: Lebanon's statistical split shows the division in that society (which was traditionally more liberal than the rest of the middle-east due to its strong modernist values, that have unfortunately been continually eroded over the last 30 years), while Pakistan's shows a split also but there it is a division between conservative and ultra-conservative, which presages just how doomed that nation is as a stable democracy. 

But the biggest, and most troubling, division is in Turkey.  What's portrayed here is a nation that has had a strong tradition of democratic, secular and pluralistic values for 90 years now, gradually pissing it all away into the hands of religious extremists. This is a very bad sign, because Turkey could be the best alternative to Saudi Arabia as a dominant influence in the region, if only it could be saved from subverting itself.  The religious fundamentalists there are playing an ever-increasing game of breaking down everything that was the brilliant Kemal Ataturk's legacy for his nation, and have now become so bold that they're pushing to have the Hagia Sophia converted back into a Mosque (which would no doubt involve the destruction of the priceless Orthodox religious icons that were restored when it was made into a museum). This is a clarion call to the fundamentalists who dream of tearing down Ataturk's secularism.

Anyways, the key message is clear: if there's any hope of a liberalization of Islam, Saudi Arabia needs to have its influence curtailed.  Just how that could happen is not really clear at this time.   The diminishing of oil's influence on the world stage might help a little, but that alone would not be enough. A regime change would only likely end up with far MORE fundamentalist forces than the Saudi Royal Family.  There seems to be few hopeful solutions, short of the miracle of some massive shift within the Saudi Royal family, where some new king turns out to be a huge reformer and has the strength, charisma and longevity to cause long-term and thorough systemic change.
The only alternative may be for some other key country to become a powerful and active force for liberal Islam; Turkey is the best bet we have in that regard, and sadly that fight is going the opposite of the moderate's way.


Currently Smoking: Stanwell Deluxe + Image Perique

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Golden Age Campaign Update

So... here goes nothing; I'm trying to write this using the "Blogger" app on my Nexus.  Let's see if it works!

On Saturday, the Mystery Men were back in action (after a one-month hiatus). The game's timeline jumped ahead to early 1943. They fought a nazi sky -fortress, and at the same time a psychotic, "Wizard of Oz"-obsessed serial killer who called himself the Friend of Dorothy.

Meanwhile, some new heroes appeared on the scene.  First, the PCs briefly met Lance Gallant, but they know him as Captain Triumph!

Second, we had the Blackhawks perform their first joint raid with US Air Force bombers on German soil. They also added a new member to their ranks... Lady Blackhawk!

Third, we had the Canadian government under William Lyon MacKenzie King (himself a sort of mystery-man, what with his ability to speak with dead people) unveil several mystery men of the True North's very own:

Captain Wonder!

(who was quickly re-christened "Captain No Pants")

Miss Masque!

And the Canadian Shield!

Anyways, that's it for now.  Stay tuned for more exciting updates, true believers!


Currently Smoking: BenWade Rhodesian + Image Latakia
PS: Nope, the blogger app didn't work. Wouldn't show pictures, didn't publish.