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Sunday 31 August 2014

Golden Age Campaign Update

Today's adventure was just about derailed!  The most mystical-sided PC (Night Owl) joined a group of pre-eminant wizards and magical superbeings (Marvello, The Green Lama, The Spectre, Dr. Fate) to a meeting they believe had been called by the earth's reigning sorcerer supreme, Aleister Crowley:

But in fact, it was a trap set for all of them by the Stalker From Beyond, a superpowerful demonic entity bent on conquering the world. 

He kicked the crap out of most of the magical heroes (killing Marvello), and was about to Banish the Spectre forever from this world.  That was when something unexpected happened.

One of our PCs is a guy named The Inquisitor, a catholic witch-hunter turned mystery man, who had as a trademark aspect the declaration "No one expects the Inquisition!".  In several occasions in the past I had allowed (with the use of a determination point) the Inquisitor to use this to show up in some scene where he would not otherwise be.  He decided to use his aspect at that exact moment and interpose himself to save the Spectre, essentially sacrificing himself.  So the Inquisitor was banished back to Heaven, while the Spectre remained and proceeded to kick the crap out of a very surprised Stalker long enough for Crowley to banish both of them to their home planes.

This caused a significant change in the planned adventure.  And we paused while the Inquisitor's player set up to make a new character.  Here's when the second surprise came up.  I have the PCs roll their "challenge" on a random table I had set up (because there's nothing I hate more than having players choose their own special disadvantages; I find that gets abused considerably more than letting them choose their own advantages).  As it happened, on his roll, the Inquisitor's PC got "Dead" as his aspect.  We all agreed at this point, the party having already felt that the Inquistor's sacrifice was fucking awesome, to let him come back with a new character that was in essence the Inquisitor sent back to Earth by God, to act as his agent of vengeance to replace the Spectre (it helped that he got like 4 powers, which is the maximum possible in this house-ruled Golden Age campaign).  He came back now as The Archangel.  It was fitting.

Anyways, the rest of the adventure was an assortment of heroes (all-stars, JSA, and Mystery Men) traveling to different parts of the war-torn world of 1945 to stop the seven black magicians who had liberated the Stalker in the first place, defeating their attempt to use the power the Stalker had granted them to conquer the Earth.  I can safely say that a great time was had by all; but the Inquistor/Archangel's character in particular ended up unanimously winning the "best roleplayer" award, by a long shot.


Currently Smoking: Dunhill Shell Diplomat + C&D's Crowley's Best

Saturday 30 August 2014

“Real” Magick in RPGs, Continued: Divination

Pretty much every serious magician practices “divination” of some form.  However, divination is an interesting subject because it is also the one magical practice most likely to be at least nominally practiced by non-magicians, or by wannabe-magicians, or by posers.  That’s because of all the forms of magic, its relatively easy to get into, and to have some initial “results” with, however blurry. More than a few great magicians (that is, batshit obsessed magicians) had their start by the seemingly innocent act of buying a tarot deck for kicks.

The first thing to clarify on the subject of divination is that a serious magician wouldn’t refer to it as or consider it to be “fortune telling”.  First, because the purpose of divination is primarily self-analysis, and secondly to help develop an understanding of the language of symbols.  Second, because the way magick understands the nature of reality (and specifically “time”) means that “seeing the future” per se is an impossibility.  “Destiny” is not a concept that has a lot of leverage with magicians or the magical world view; the future is not set, it is rather a series of events that are based on the weight of patterns and prior events.  The events of each moment is the product of the influence of billions of other little and big moments that preceded it.  Thus by doing something, even a “little” something in the present, you can radically alter the future, for yourself, or for the whole world.

Divination doesn’t work by somehow gazing into the future; rather, it works by looking at the present and at that “flow” of events, with a special perspective.  If the future is the product of a current of circumstances flowing from the present, being able to clearly see the present allows you to understand not just how things are in the present, but the general direction in which things are likely to develop.  Hence the name of the Chinese system of divination, the “I Ching” (the book of the changes).  A divination system is a system of symbols, that put together create a kind of scale model, or organizational system, to describe reality.  A “Dewey Decimal system for the universe”, if you would.  As symbols, these systems can intuitively connect with our human consciousness, so that even someone who has almost zero experience with a deck of tarot cards could just intuitively feel their way around them and maybe (assuming they’ve exercised their intuition at all) get a glimpse of the “message” a card reading is trying to tell them.  A magician, on the other hand, studies these symbols profoundly, connecting to them on both the intuitive and intellectual level.  Thus, as he gains in ability, he develops a very good skill at being able to use a divination system to take a “reading” of his own situation, of the balance of his elements, of trends that are going on for him in the present and how these are likely to go in the future, and get ideas of how to shift them subtly in order to make positive changes; or he can likewise do the same for other people.

This working with divinatory tools is thus never (for the hardcore magician) primarily about trying to determine the future; it is part of the process of self-analysis.  You can use a divination tool to try to get a better grasp of your inner nature; it is part of the work a magician does, along with the magical diary and exercises of contemplation and meditation to try to understand themselves better.  A big part of magical theory is that human beings are bound up by “conditionings”; ideas about themselves or the world, about likes and dislikes, about personality, that act as a trap.  I covered some of this while talking about “masks” in the previous installment; the personality mistakenly believed to be the self.  Part of being able to initially liberate one’s self from that ego-persona requires being able to understand it clearly, and divination gives you hints to this. Basically, the symbol becomes a bridge for self-communication, between the conscious and the unconscious mind. Those messages your higher self is trying to send you, which you can’t normally hear clearly, can become clearer when intentionally run through the “translation program” of a divinatory tool.

There are tons of different systems of divination out there, from new age oracles to ancient yoruba cowrie-shell casting; but there are three “big” systems that tend to be the ones most often used by magicians, which I’ll try to briefly explain.  Any of the three may be used by “posers” and magicians alike, but the way they would appear to use them will tend to be different, and can serve to give subtle hints as far as whether you want to portray an NPC magician as a newbie, or as someone who has got their shit together, or as someone who’s plunged off the deep end.

Tarot: the big daddy of the divination systems, the Tarot is a 78-card deck that dates back to the 14th century, though some really ill-informed magicians might try to claim that it dates as far back as Egypt or “ancient Atlantis”. Its four suits plus 22 trumps (major arcana, the cards with names like the Fool, Death, or the Sun) represent, as a whole, a working model of the magical universe.  The suits connect to the four classical elements, while the trumps detail the whole process of magical work and development, from initiation to “union with the universe”.  The tarot is a composite work, it contains in it symbols that are important in the Kabbalah, Astrology, Alchemy, Sufi teaching, and other elements.  There are thousands of decks available, most of which to some extent or another end up stripping away, rather than emphasizing that symbolism.  A newb could be using any deck at all (often some “thematic” deck like the “dragon tarot”, the “celtic tarot”, etc), and will either just make up meanings or have to refer regularly to a book.  Hardcore magicians will generally use either the Crowley “Thoth” deck or one of its variants, or if they’re old-school will use one of the reproductions of the medieval decks like the Marseilles or Visconti. The typical magician will read the cards in a “spread”, a kind of layout (which varies, there are hundreds of them); whereas a really experienced magician will likely omit the spread and read the cards just by laying a series of them out in order. A serious obsessive of ceremonial magick or crowleyana will tend to use an extremely complex counting system that originated with the 19th century “Order of the Golden Dawn”; done in full, that kind of system takes a couple of hours to do a reading.

Runes: This is a relative newcomer to western occultism, popularized in the 70s by pagans who were looking to revive the “norse tradition” and later embraced by new-agers.  The runes are the viking alphabet, which has 24 letters; each letter has a literal meaning, and it has a divinatory significance; for example the f-rune, “fehu”, literally means “cattle” and it symbolizes material issues (usually material prosperity). Runes today are used by hardcore magicians, wiccans, new agers, other kinds of pagans; they’re widely adopted, though still most popular among “asatru” (norse pagans).  The latter are mostly dedicated revivalists of ancient norse religion, who try to strive for authenticity; though there’s also a seedy minority of these that mix up runic magic with neo-nazi philosophy (usually, the latter are rightly reviled by mainstream norse pagans; they could also make good occult Villains for a campaign, its always fun to beat the shit out of nazis).  Newbs will use cheap store-bought runes made of plastic, ceramic, or (most popular with new agers) crystal. 

Serious students of the runes will try to follow the old rules about them: namely that runes for divination should be made out of organic material: wood or occasionally bone.  Real hardcore types won’t settle for anything other than carving their own runes, which they will then guard lovingly; though the truly batshit obsessive types will sometimes insist on carving a new set of runes for every divination, ritually burning the runes after they are used. The ignorant will follow bad book-advice and read runes in pretty well exactly the same way as tarot cards, laying them out in a “spread”, while those who actually know the way runes are meant to be used will instead literally “cast” the runes, throwing a certain number of them so that they fall into patterns which are then part of the interpretation, sometimes within the boundaries of a traced or drawn circle.  Aside from divination, the runic alphabet can also be used for a variety of magical purposes, most notably the creation of sigils.

I Ching: This chinese system of divination first became popularized among western magicians by Aleister Crowley, who was the first white man (that we know of) to regularly use the I Ching for divination. Crowley actually liked the I Ching far more than the Tarot, relying on the I Ching much more frequently (we know this because of the records kept in his magical diaries).  The reason for this is that while readings with the Tarot (or the runes) tend to be kind of vague even in the best of times, dealing in symbols that you then have to try to decipher the meaning of; the I Ching is motherfucking specific.  Its all “go do this” or “don’t go there” or “you’ll fuck up, but it won’t be your fault, so do this anyways”.  It gives a much more specific and personal kind of oracle while the Tarot or Runes give a more open kind of oracle that seems to deal with larger issues or trends; for me, the Tarot is for sensing patterns and sweeping developments while the I Ching is for when I want the answer to a concrete question. Both have different uses.
(Runes are somewhere in between the two, by the way, but closer to the Tarot)

Later, the I Ching became incredibly popular with the hippies in the 1960s, and has become a mainstay of the magical community ever since.  Of the three, it is the one least popular among the newbs, since it requires interpreting directly from a book (the I Ching itself), and leaves the least room for making  it up as you go along; to use it really well also requires at least some knowledge of Confucian/Taoist metaphysics, and an understanding of the elements (and a good translation! most translations focus on obsessive sinological minutiae  and are exactly the opposite of good for practical divination work). 

The I Ching is a book that, like the runes or the tarot, presents a working model of reality, based on a series of 8 trigrams that when combined in pairs form 64 hexagrams.  Each trigram is binary, either a single solid line or a single broken line.  “Post-modern” magicians (hipsters) like to make a very big deal about how the I Ching connects to all kinds of things from computer programing to genetic code to chaos theory to quantum mechanics, invoking all kinds of pseudoscience to explain their reasoning.
The I Ching itself describes the flow of elements over time,  how one set of circumstances evolves into another.  You use a method of divination (usually tossing three coins six times) to get a hexagram that represent the present; and as each line can be either “stable” or “changing”, the changing lines (the ones that form the really important part of the divination) determine what the second “future” hexagram will be, by changing the lines from solid to broken or vice-versa.  While less newbs tend to use the I Ching, you may find them using I-ching themed oracle-decks, which serious fans of the I Ching tend to deplore.  Unlike other methods of divination, it is not a sign of clueless newbie-ism to be referring to the book; only the craziest of fanatics is likely to have memorized the entire text of the I Ching (I’ve been using the I Ching on a very regular basis for two decades and haven’t come even close to that, despite being pretty hardcore). But a newbie will be likely to seem more lost paging through the book, will have more trouble remembering the meaning of the hexagrams, or trigrams, etc.  Serious Crowley-fanatics can be identified by the fact that they might refer to this system as the “Yi King” (the old-timey name for it, back in Crowley’s days when Beijing was “Peking”); they are also likely to use six sticks instead of three coins, as that’s the method Crowley devised when the magnificent bastard started using the book before anyone in the west actually had a clue as to the traditional method of casting a hexagram. 

Really hardcore guys will use the “old” traditional method of using a huge bundle of yarrow stalks, in a much longer and more complicated ritual process to generate a hexagram; they’ll tend to obstinately insist that this is a superior “more accurate” method.  Its possible that some truly batshit hardcore guys might even use the even-older method of burning a turtle-shell over an open flame and looking for lines to determine the hexagram. Those would be the kind of magicians you’d either really really not want to meet... or really want to meet, I guess, depending on the circumstances.

Divination techniques are a great element to include in any modern-occult game, since they provide ready-made props.  Its not hard to get your hands on a tarot deck or a set of runes (or the I Ching, though that’s not as visually effective), which are good visual aids to use as flavouring in your actual game; you could even try to figure out some way of incorporating a “reading” done in real-time to the system of the game you’re running; though I’ll leave that for you to figure out.


Currently Smoking: Davidoff 400 series apple + C&D’s Pirate Kake

(originally reposted June 4th, 2013, on the old blog)

Friday 29 August 2014

The Cordon Street Market (Drum Circle and Wheatgrass Juice Not Included)

It's funny, I've been here almost 11 years now. You'd think I'd get over it.  And yet, it still happens, fairly often, that I look around me and say "holy shit, I'm in Uruguay"!  And at the same time, that I'm amazed by the strange kind of beauty this city has.

There's also something to say about how, once a week, the block of a regular street right around the corner from my house ends up being turned into a farmer's market.  Not a hipster farmer-market that's all clean and ersatz and full of organic quinoa and carob energy-booster smoothies and crystal healing talismans and other things that have fuck all to do with farmers.  No.  A real market, of real stuff from farms brought in fresh from the city and at ridiculously low prices.

Today, I bought a big bag of some amazing black olives, a quarter-kilo hunk of sharp slightly-bitter 'cuartirolo' cheese, a dry, slightly spicy, really delicious "chacarero" sausage, and a dozen of the most amazing sweet mandarin oranges, with a flavor like you wouldn't believe, picked about a two-hour drive from this very spot.

Total cost for all of the above? Under $9US.

So yeah, it's fucking awesome.

And now, pictures!  Forgive the poor quality, I am man of many talents, photography is not one of them:

This is right around the corner from my house.  It's not some special area, it's not in some theme park pseudo-barn done-up with public or corporate sponsorship.  It's just a regular street that cars drive through 6.5 days (and every night) of the week, but for half a day on Friday it becomes a farmer's market.

I live in El Cordon, which I think is just about the best neighbourhood to live in.  It's statistically the safest (old ladies can walk their little dogs on the street at night), it's super super central (five blocks from the beach, five blocks from downtown), it's gradually becoming trendier with a lot of restaurants and little shops and an increasingly 'hipster' vibe (that's a mixed blessing), and real estate is inexpensive. Plus, it's beautiful.

Here's where I get my cheese and sausages.  It's like a little supermarket built inside a 60-year old bus.  Super-cheap prices, and the people are extremely friendly. You have to take a number, and these guys are so popular it's usually best to take your number first thing, then do all your other shopping while you wait for them to call you.

This is what a farmer's market really looks like, boys and girls.  Not a whiff of patchouli nor a glance of hemp pants to be found. Just incredible, all locally-grown produce.

And man, is it ever delicious.


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

Thursday 28 August 2014

RPGPundit Reviews: The Monolith Beyond Space and Time

This is a review of the LotFP adventure "The Monolith Beyond Space and Time", written by James Raggi, published by LotFP.  It's a module about 46 pages in length, with a full-color cover feauring a weird monolith in a misty wood. 

The interior has only a very few black and white illustrations, most of them creepy but nothing reaching the levels of gore or shock that some other LotFP adventures sometimes contain.

What can I say about this adventure?!

There's two things you absolutely need to know about "The Monolith Beyond Space and Time":
1) It involves a Monolith
2) Said Monolith is Beyond Space and Time

I can certainly say that Monolith is a truly excellent, though highly destructive adventure for the Call of Cthulhu RPG.  Unfortunately, it was intended and presented as being for D&D.

As a D&D adventure, Monolith is yet another in a series of Raggi Party-Killers.  A particularly weird one, where what will get you is not so much monsters or dastardly traps, but just weird space/time effects around the aforementioned Monolith.  There's not much explanation of why you'd go after it in the first place, the promise of treasure, I suppose.  There isn't very much in the way of treasure to be had, just a 99% chance of being completely doomed.

Now don't get me wrong, there's some really really creative writing going on in Monolith.  The weird effects are truly weird, some of them just about qualify as 'scary', and the whole concept is brilliantly rendered.  Unfortunately, this is certainly not an adventure you could run as part of an ongoing campaign (at least, not one  where the idea is not to just keep going with an entirely new party).  It's only not a 'nega-dungeon' by virtue of not having a dungeon (though I guess you could call the dimensional space inside the Monolith a "dungeon").  It is certainly a "nega-adventure" in that for the player characters, the best way to "win" would be not to play at all; the cost-benefit ratio is such that not into the valley of the Monolith is absolutely and by a wide-margin the best choice.

And no, that's not the case with "all adventures".  Most standard D&D adventures on this side of the Tomb of Horrors are such that while there's considerable risk, there's also considerable payoff. In Monolith, there's a gigantic level of risk (and mainly from "dangers" you can't remove with a sword-blow or cast spell) and only the tiniest chance of a payoff.

So what is the adventure good for?  You could certainly use it for a D&D one-shot where you didn't have to worry about un-fucked-up survivability.  Note that you'd need a particular group; one that does not have a problem with really crazy surreal stuff happening.
You could also pretty much use it as-is with Call of Cthulhu; there's nothing about the Monolith's micro-setting that demands it be set in a medieval fantasy world.  It would only be slightly weirder for a group of dudes from the 1920s to end up in the valley of the Monolith than for a group of guys from Greyhawk.

As far as utility for cannibalization, Monolith doesn't really have as much potential as some of the other LotFP weirdo products.  I recently reviewed "The God That Crawls", and that adventure (which is pretty brutal but WAY more conventional by comparison) certainly had a number of elements that could be stripped for use in other adventures.  Monolith has a couple of really frightening monsters, weird effects, and some oddball spells that might be usable, but on the whole it's not quite as practical for that purpose.

So, the good: great eerie writing. Very unique concept. More "mythos weird" than almost any CoC adventure ever written.

The Bad: as a D&D adventure, it will probably murder your entire party, and piss off all your players, unless they specifically know this is what they're getting into beforehand.


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

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Lords of Olympus: Khaos and Order

In the Lords of Olympus game, if you’re playing it true to the classical mold, chaos (or Khaos, if you prefer) and order should be a major theme.  The ancients viewed the universe as emerging out of Khaos, which was a literal entity, a primordial deity: inhuman, uncontrollable, ever-changing.  But from this Khaos structure came to exist, and demarcation lines created that allowed order to establish itself (starting with Phanes, and moving on from there).

Most of the story of humanity is about creating order from chaos: the family, the tribe, the city-state, all of these were steps in a progressive building-up of order, where beyond the limits of that order there was savage chaos, and where the risk of collapse of these man-made structures and institutions was a risk of being flung into a wildness that is fundamentally inimical to mankind.

Even the gods in the Lords of Olympus universe are largely about that same kind of progression: the Primordials start with Khaos, and then move towards those entities that are the very first semblances of a kind of order-in-nature (the night sky, the day, the stars, etc), but they are all still largely chaotic in their nature; there’s nothing very civilized about them. Even those primordials which embody human concepts (like Nemesis, Hypnos, Momus, or Eris) are all still representative of the most primal and uncontrolled parts of the human psyche (revenge, sleep, mockery, discord) that are threatening to civilization.

The Titans were a step toward a  more civilized nature, but they are largely the gods of a barbarian state; they are clearly not inhuman the way the primordials mostly are, but they are still far more rough-around-the-edges than what would come after them.  Uranus, the divine King of the primordial era, despised the order that he saw as weakness in his Titan children; he was deposed by Cronus, who created a new kind of order, but it was the order of a barbarian king; he refused to share his rule.
The Olympians represent the order of the city-state; a more civilized very human kind of order.  While Zeus is still despotic by modern standards, he has willingly shared his power with his brothers Poseidon and Hades, and has set up rules for the gods and their conduct. Olympians and their power, unlike those of the Primordials or the Titans, is based on the building up of structures, rather than violence or the tearing down of reality.

In a campaign, these themes can be addressed in a number of ways: certainly, the struggles with Primordial forces or the Titans (or their remnants) can be a common theme.  Monstrosities (like many of the children of Gaia) represent a chaos that threatens the stability of realms.  There is also the danger of chaos within the ranks of the Olympians, of the sophisticated structures and balance of power being upset by some event that threatens in turn the stability of creation itself.

Finally, you also have Dionysus; the God Who Comes, the prophesied future ruler of creation.  But what kind of god will he be? In one sense, he seems to represent a return toward chaos; he spends his time in decadent orgiastic ecstasy; his closest ally is the savage god Pan.  But it is also not quite that simple, because the anarchy of Dionysus may also be in fact another level of order: the freedom of an evolved creation, able to govern itself; he may yet be the god of Liberty; and what he might sweep aside is the brutality or despotism that remains in the Olympian court.


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

(Originally posted May 24, 2013; on the old blog)

Tuesday 26 August 2014

theRPGsite: Call for Submission(s)!

The RPGsite is currently accepting articles for submission for our new "Articles" section. 

What we're looking for is well-written articles, and preference in submissions will be given to people who are already relatively known people in the hobby; though all submissions will be considered except from people who were previously banned from theRPGsite.  It is not strictly necessary to be a member of theRPGsite to send an article submission, though we'd sure like it if you joined!

So whether you're an award-winning game designer, a blogger, or just a guy or gal who has something to say, as long as it's on an RPG related topic, and between 1000 and 4000 words, we'll be glad to consider you for publication to this special section of the site.

So far we've had some great articles, including:

- a first-look review of D&D 5e

-a really awesome guide to injuries and infections written by a real-life doctor!

-an interview with the designer of the SUPERS! Revised RPG

-a guide of how to convert 5e into a great Post-Apocalyptic Campaign

And many more!

So if you would like to make a submission, check out this thread for more information.

And meanwhile, be sure to take a look at our articles subforum!


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

Monday 25 August 2014

Uncracked Monday: Outrage!

No, this isn't about any specific outrage; it's not about the Consultancygate nonsense, or about the Zoe Quinn thing happening, or about people outraged that James Desborough, who sure seems to love outraging people, is doing a "Gor" RPG.

It's just about outrage in general, and why outrage is so popular on the internet.

Outrage is hip.


Currently Smoking: Gigi bent billiard + Image Perique

Sunday 24 August 2014

A Brief Review of 5e D&D From an Old-School Perspective

So when I get sent all three main books, I may write a more detailed review of them all as a set.  But for now, I want to say a few words about the Player's Handbook.  Many people have written very good and detailed reviews from a general point of view, so what I wanted to emphasize is whether (and how) the PHB is useful from the point of view of an old-school gamer.

For the interest of disclosure I should point out, to the two gamers on the planet who haven't heard this already, that I was involved in the creation of D&D 5e as a paid Consultant.   That said, and while I certainly think that was one factor in playing a part in how old-school-compatible this game is, I don't think that as such the fact that I have my name in the credits affects the opinions I'm stating now; had things gone a different way and had the 5e rules not been really good for this sort of thing, I would not be speaking favorably of it now.

So first, it's clear that the PHB is not in and of itself an OSR game.  But it is certainly informed by a strong old-school feel.

I can say that on a personal level, 5e D&D was the first edition of D&D in 25 years that I've felt really excited about; and the first in about 15 that I've been at all interested in playing (neither 3.5 nor 4e did anything for me at all; though I quite liked the D20 system itself).  I can actually see myself running a campaign with this game, and that says quite a lot.

The first thing to be said from the OSR perspective is that the spirit of the game is very much one of "rulings, not rules".  Yes, it's a bit more complex than the simplest of OSR games, but there are certainly old-school RPGs that feature similar levels of complexity.  Consider, for example, the level of rules in AD&D 1e, or Adventures Dark and Deep.
There's also a lot of innovation to be sure, but there is innovation that works against old-school principles, and innovation that works with it.  I had pointed out "Dungeon Crawl Classics" and "Lamentations of the Flame Princess" as an example of two games that take two very different approaches to "innovation" in rules from the D&D standard, as exemplars of how to do Innovation 'right'. And there's certainly elements of innovation in 5e's rule-set that remind me of both those games.

The structure of the rules are extremely modular; whereas in certain other editions it was very hard to houserule without disrupting an intricate and delicate web of rules, exceptions, feats, or class abilities, in 5e it is much easier to houserule without difficulty.
Note how things like multiclassing and feats, two of the bugbears (pardon the pun) of recent editions, have in 5e been shunted off away from the main section of character creation, and explicitly presented as optional.

There are certainly some features that aren't very conducive to what people think of as OSR play.  One is obviously in the matter of healing.  Now, I don't think that every old-school game needs to be one where you heal 1hp/night; but at the same time, the notion that you heal ALL your hit-points overnight is likely to leave a bad taste in the mouth of even the most liberal of grognards.
But you can change it pretty easily. You could change it, all the way to 1hp/night if you really wanted to.  But a more intermediate solution could be to turn around the nature of recovery at night: instead of healing all your hit points, you heal your hit dice, and then decide how many you want to use in healing and when.  Want to be a little tougher? You heal half your hit dice.  It's very easy for you to make these kinds of changes in the game.

There's also the matter of how elements of the rules serve to inspire old-school houserules.  Backgrounds, which no doubt some new-schoolers feel is very much in keeping with their preferences, are something that can totally lend itself to a more old-school hack of 5e. You could easily remake D&D 5e backgrounds into a "0-level character" thing.
If you were running an OSR-style 5e campaign, you could start PCs at level 0, have them choose a background, get d4+con HP; and then after a suitably small amount of xp (30?) get to level 1, where they'd choose a class, and roll 1st level hit points instead of taking max.  Suddenly you've got a game that's looking an awful lot like DCC.

These are only a few examples; and judging by how many known old-schoolers are already talking about using 5e, and what they're doing with it, and what old-school settings and adventures they want to adapt to 5e, and adapt 5e to, it's pretty clear that this game has caught the imagination of gamers of all stripes.

And that's what really convinced me that this edition is going to be very special.  As much as everything else I mentioned has interested and motivated me, what blew me away was that as I was going through the book and thinking about possibilities, I started to think about what kind of setting I might make that would be really suited for 5e.  What I came up with was a setting that would really work with an old school type houseruling of 5e; so fine, that's to be expected. The surprising part was that the setting hinged on the Dragonborn as an absolutely central race of the setting.

Dragonborn!  A race that until now I associated with all the worst moves of the last few years of D&D. A race I could never imagine myself using, and suddenly I'm dreaming up a world where they're right in the middle of it.
That was when I knew: these rules have been able to bridge a divide. They've done something that will not only change how I view D&D but how I operate old-school play and old-school worlds.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Egg + Brebbia no.7 Mix

Saturday 23 August 2014

The Day

I was going to post my short review of the D&D 5e player's handbook from an OSR perspective today.  But then I realized I can't.  You'll just have to wait.

Not today, because today is it. It's Doctor Day.

And here's hoping, we'll get for the first time in a very long time, a Doctor who's allowed to be an Adult.  An eccentric crazy adult, but an adult. Not a character from a children's story, not a teenie-bopper, not a rebellious punk kid.  But rather the figure who is an authority in himself, who commands and reassures. 

In other words, after a long time of Troughton (and I love Troughton, god bless him), maybe we're finally ready for Pertwee again?

We're about to find out. Technically, I won't be finding out until tomorrow (at a friend's house, and really what better way is there to watch Doctor Who than with friends?).  Today I have to game. 


Currently Smoking:

Friday 22 August 2014

RPGPundit Reviews: Red Tide

This is a review of the RPG setting/supplement “Red Tide: Adventure in a Crimson World”, written by Kevin Crawford, published by Sine Nomine publishing.  The review is of the print edition, which is a softcover, 170 pages long or thereabouts, with a full-colour cover (mostly red, though) featuring an imitation of the Japanese style of classic drawings of waves (only red, of course). 

Interior art is all B&W, with many interesting pieces of what seem to be typical D&D-style fantasy art, art with a slightly “Asian” thematic, illustrations of monsters, maps, and a considerable number of sample floor-plans at the back of the book.

You know, when I first heard of Red Tide and what it was about, I was fairly worried.  In part because of some accounts that were not altogether accurate, but in any case, what it sounded like it was going to end up being is a typical anti-imperialist modern college-liberal self-righteous bullshit hippie-morality tale masquerading as an RPG. And with what the premise of the book is all about, in the hands of a lesser writer no doubt that’s exactly what it would have been.  Had it been written by one of the Swine, it would have been your standard throwaway utterly-unclever “Civilized Humans BAD, Noble Orc Savages GOOD” pseudo-activist fairy-tales, and the author would no doubt have been really satisfied at how “brilliant” he was for making such a “bold” (that is, stupid) statement, and had all the pseudo-activist crowd pat him on the back for it.

But Kevin Crawford is clearly not one of the Swine, and he went a different route: instead of doing something along those lines, he went ahead and did something that was REALLY clever and bold, by not falling into that trap and instead writing something about the pragmatic complexities of a bad situation.

Mind you, that’s not what’s really smart about Red Tide.  No, what’s smart about Red Tide is that he did it in a way that you actually have a playable and interesting setting! That is, it actually fulfills its stated purpose of being a game setting to play D&D in, rather than just a facade so that the author can hammer a morality-story of his ideological-choosing down your throat.

At this point, you may not have any idea what I’m going on about, so please allow me to explain the basic premise of Red Tide: its a fantasy setting, ostensibly compatible with Labyrinth Lord (which of course means its basically compatible with any old-school edition of D&D or its variants), that details a world where most of reality has been consumed by an apocalyptic event; the aforementioned “red tide” that has swept across the world devouring everything in its path, except one small chain of islands.  Here, the last civilized survivors of this world came in search of refuge.  They found these islands full of native humanoids (collectively called the “Shou”, but mercifully termed orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, etc.).  The civilized humans, elves, dwarves and halflings proceeded to conquer the island and make a fairly merciless war against the barbaric natives, who until then had spent much of their time fighting amongst themselves.  Mostly victorious, they drove the humanoids back into the wilder parts of the islands’ interior (though since then the Shou have fought back in various waves, sometimes retaking significant territories), and the civilized folk then proceeded to establish various different types of small kingdoms on the islands.

Now, the setting does have some elements of questioning this invasion, though the author has also gone to great pains to demonstrate the Shou as brutal and merciless in their fight against the refugees; but the real secret kicker of the setting (the sort of thing I don’t normally divulge in a review, but in this case I think its important to do so) is that the Shou are key to having any hope of holding back and defeating the Red Tide.

Again, in the hands of a less interested or talented world-builder, we’d see a black and white soppy morality tale of evil imperialists and noble savages with mystic powers who are unquestionably right, but fortunately Crawford avoids this trap.  Instead, the Shou are depicted as brutal in their barbarity and unaware of their own significance, and the colonists as a desperate mix of good and bad, all trying above all to survive. The Red Tide itself is more than just a macguffin for the story, rather its an alien entity bent on consuming all reality in its path, and capable of insinuating itself into peoples’ dreams, twisting their minds and bodies to corruption by playing on their hopes and desperation.  Both the Shou and these “tidespawn” make fascinating opponents for any adventuring group, though the latter are of necessity to be destroyed while the former must usually be destroyed for pragmatic purposes, but in any long-term campaign would need to ultimately be made aware of their destiny if there’s any hope of stopping the end of the world.

There’s notable sophistication in this setting and a GM can run it in a number of different ways.  Like his former work, Stars Without Number, the inclination of the author is to direct GMs to run it as a sandbox, with an open style of play directed by the PC party and their movement and choices, in how they interact with an emulated living world.  There is a chapter of the book dedicated to how to do this, and a number of aids I’ll talk about a bit more below.

I should note, in case it was not already obvious, that Red Tide is not a complete RPG; it is a setting and sourcebook, but requires that you have LL or some other D&D-esque ruleset to play. In theory, you could also play it with some other fantasy rule-set but this would require some modification.
So what do you get in the book?

For starters, there’s a lengthy background on the setting itself; important in this case because of the unusual particularities of the setting.  Next you get guidelines of how the various races of baseline-D&D (humans, elves, dwarves, and halflings, plus humanoids) fit into the setting; all of them are familiar but also particularly tweaked to fit the setting. Humans are divided into various racial backgrounds; you have the Eirengarders (who are “european”), Eshkanti (who are “arab”), Gadaal (“celts”), Imperials (the most significant/dominant civilized human group in the setting, who are basically “Chinese”), Kueh (“japanese”), and Skandr (“vikings”, who were actually settlers on some of the islands prior to the time of the apocalypse).

You get quite a few details on the geography and topography of the islands, called the Sunset Islands, including very decent random encounter tables (only the first of a plethora of excellent random table material in this book; like with Stars Without Number, the author has gone out of his way to provide a great deal of awesome random elements to help with play!).

The setting itself is by its nature geographically limited; everywhere outside the Sunset Isles has been consumed by the red tide, after all.  However, the islands themselves are still quite large and provide an ample amount of diverse locales for adventuring.  There are vast areas of wilderness still ruled by the Shou, and then a number of different city-state areas settled by some of the major racial groups of refugees.  These each have their own particular character: Xian is the great capital city of the Imperials, Tien Lung a corrupt and decadent city ruled over by degenerate wizards, Altgrimmr is a dwarven stronghold, Hohnberg is the Eirengarder city with a european feel, Kitaminato is the Kueh city which has given itself over in a dark pact with the demonic Hell Kings in order to survive, and Nordheim is the chief city of the Skandr vikings.  There are several major islands (including one that is larger by far than all the others) and a number of smaller islands that feature remote and peaceful villages or dark and sinister lairs of powerful wizards or demons. The setting features ruins both in the form of the Westmark, a region that was once settled by the colonists but then overrun and and destroyed by the Shou, and also in the form of more ancient ruins that were created by ancient lizardmen that were once the original inhabitants of the isle but have long since collapsed into decadence.

The setting material provides a number of excellent maps, both hexmaps and otherwise, detailing the geographical features, points of interest, climate, and political boundaries of the islands.

About 17 pages of material are provided detailing the important city states, and their views on things like slavery, magic, religion, gender and economy.  You also get a chapter dedicated to explaining the roles and how to play the different classes/races in the setting. Largely speaking, these are the standard LL classes/races, but there are a couple of additions, such as the Scions (elves born in a human body), Shou Witches, and the Vowed (a monk class with some interesting wuxia-style martial arts).

There’s also a section on magic and how magic works in the setting, along with a few new styles of magic (including the atrocious Stitched Path magic of the decadent Tien Lung wizards), new cleric spells, magic user spells, magic for shou witches and Scion “Wyrds”, as well as some new magic items.

There’s a ten page “bestiary” chapter, which covers some of the specific monsters of the setting, including the Hell Kings, the various Shou humanoid types, and the somewhat cthulhuesque “tidespawn” (the mutations created by beings who’ve been warped by the Red Tide).

The chapter on how to run a Sandbox is impressive, in fact more impressive than its equivalent in Stars Without Number, including guidelines for creating specific sites in the sandbox, complete with random tables to help you define the natures and challenges of these places.  This is an incredible resource for a sandbox game. A “court site”, for example, might be a noble’s court, an extended family, a business, a school, a temple, or a Tong (gang).  Each one of these will then have a (optionally randomly determined) number of important people, and a conflict (again, randomly determined if the GM wishes, through tables in the book).  Each specific site type has its own tables for determining the type of important people, the sources of these people’s power, and other NPCs that might be met there. And just as there are “court sites”, there are also “borderland sites”, “city sites”, and “ruin sites” (in this case complete with NPC statblocks). This chapter is one of the largest of the book, covering 55 majestic pages.

The book also has a shorter chapter detailing the secrets of the nature of the Red Tide; I think I’ve already divulged more than I should on this subject, but suffice it to say that the Red Tide has been thought out, and while obviously any GM could change its nature if he desired, or just leave it a mystery in his game, the book itself doesn’t abandon GMs to their own speculation on the matter.  Instead, it has a definite nature, purpose, and a way (however slim) of defeating it (though that would clearly be the herculean task of an entire campaign, probably one that would require reaching very high levels).

Finally, much like in SWN, the end of the Red Tide book contains a number of truly excellent “game resource” tables: a set of tables to quickly create a Red-Tide cult, person and place name table for Dwarves, Eirengarers, Elves, Eshkanti, Gadaal, Halflings, Imperials, Kueh, Shou, and Skandr; notes on the types of businesses that might be found in villages, towns and cities; quick NPC-creation tables, room dressing tables, and a spectacular (and useful!) set of sample blueprints for villages, temples & shrines, underground tunnels, border outposts, deep and hillside caves, estates, and ruins.

So, on the whole Red Tide is an excellent product. It certainly cements Crawford as one of the truly great writers of the OSR, and one of the rare ones who can write not just system (which, let’s face it, is not all that hard when you have D&D as a base to go from) but setting, which is a much trickier beastie.  As a game setting it makes for an excellent campaign world, and while its quite contained, there’s certainly decent amounts of material that a GM of any other setting could borrow for use in their own world; both in terms of actual setting details and in terms of methodology (the book might just inspire me to do similar “site” templates for my own Arrows of Indra game).


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Poker + H&H’s Beverwyck

(Originally reposted May 23, 2013)

Thursday 21 August 2014

DCC Campaign Update: GOLDEATER! (and the Derpy Horse of Destiny)

In this weeks fun-soaked adventure, the PCs were shocked by the fact that:

-Bolto the Conversation-loving Robot makes an awful barista.

-the airing of 'Matlock' would lead the world's greatest and oldest human adventurer to use a Cracker of Wishing to get them back to his palace on time.

-the defeat of the Eye Tyrants but not the Halconlords (and their guiding daemon Zargon) would end up ruining a far-too-intricate-to-work plan on the part of Sezrekan.

-the Demon Zzaszz was perilously close to capturing the Derpy Horse of Destiny in order to ritually sacrifice it and thus finally be able to transcend the Qlippothic breach to take on material form in the world, and conquer it.

-the Derpy Horse of Destiny was recently spotted somewhere in the Great Furry Plains.

-if the plan to have the Eye Tyrants and Halconlords mutually destroy each other doesn't work, one can always try to enact a plan to get the Halconlords and the Demon Zzaszz destroy each other.

-ancient burial mounds are a dangerous place, if you believe a totally insane Transparent Mutant Druid.

-choosing to put a drug-dealing human together with a drug-smoking elf for the first watch of the night is generally a bad idea.

-if you are sufficiently stoned, a Sequester Alarm just sounds like an annoying buzzing noise in your head.

-the Lumpy-Brown Mutants are vassals of the Gold Mutants of the Grand City of Goldhalcon, which may or may not have anything to do with the Halconlords, it's not clear.

-Goldhalcon is ruled by Goldeater, the criminal mastermind.

-Gold mutants literally eat gold to become more powerful.  Goldeater has apparently eaten a LOT of gold in his long lifespan.

-Goldeater also has a Council of Seven-and-a-Half Wizards, a dangerous bodyguard named Mr.Shin who has a deadly cravat; plus lasers, land-sharks, land-sharks with lasers attached to their heads, a semi-secret Volcano Bunker hideout just outside the city, control over Orbital Death Satellites, a plan to extort "One Million gold pieces!" from the neighbouring kingdoms, and a sensible and progressive municipal gun control policy.

-Goldeater also has a potentially-copyright-infringing theme song.

-Goldeater is, in spite of all this, the 'good guy' compared to the Demon Zzaszz.

-the Great Furry Plains is apparently populated by tribes of people who like to dress up as animals.

-the Capricorn Village, found on the plains, is a friendly community full of people who like to dress up as goats, rams, sheep, and one gorilla that may actually just be a real gorilla.

-Gold Mutant teamsters, in spite of working for a notoriously murderous criminal mastermind, are still really lazy.

-the Demon Zzaszz has sent not one but two of his Wraith Princes to capture the Derpy Horse of Destiny.

-there's also an elite team of Halconlord Assassins heading to the increasingly crowded Great Furry Plains.

-the Derpy Horse of Destiny is the descendent of the primordial horse king, pure-bred to maintain all of his ancestor's magical power, and thus hopeless inbred. He wanders the last world seeking to bring joy and do good deeds for all living beings and leaving a trail of destruction in his wake.

-the Derpy Horse of Destiny, in spite of being protected by the forces of destiny and the ebb and flow of fortune and misfortune, can be captured by sufficiently powerful spell checks.

-astonishingly, a group of lollygagging teamsters taken by surprise are absolutely no match for an equal number of highly trained Halconlord assassins.

-likewise, a team of veteran Gold Mutant soldier-goons are no match for a Wraith Prince. 

-on the other hand, a Wraith Prince is no match for a sufficiently powerful gender-bending magic missile.

-when figuring out what to do with a derpy magic horse, it's a bad idea to totally forget that there was a second Wraith Prince in the vicinity.

-at the end of the day, no matter how loveable and lucky a Derpy Horse of Destiny may be, no amount of derping around can save it from Sezrekan getting what Sezrekan wants.

-unbeknownst to almost anyone, recently deceased Derpy Horses lay eggs.


Currently Smoking: Blatter Diplomat + C&D's Crowley's Best

Wednesday 20 August 2014

"Only Players Roll" is the Exact Opposite of Good Design

I know it's become a trend lately, in some RPGs in certain quarters, to have a system where the GM never gets to roll the dice, and only the players roll for everything.

Now, in some cases, we could say that there may be nefarious motivations for this, based on a longstanding distrust certain groups have toward GMs in general; there's been for a long time a line of thought among certain gamers that the GM should be if at all possible 'deposed' from "power"; and if that's a motive then forbidding the GM from rolling dice is a particularly egregious case of anti-GM paranoia; it presumes that the GM will "cheat" on his rolls and thus abuse the players. 

But let's ignore that for a moment. Let's assume that these games have no anti-GM bias going and their motivation for making all rolls the responsibility of the players is some kind of attempt instead to make the game somehow more 'fun' for the players.  If that's the case, this mechanic is still really bad design.

It misses the point, you see, of the fundamental purpose of the RPG: to Immerse in a character you play in an emulated world.

It would seem the people who push forth this notion of taking the dice away from the GM never really got that point. A lot of them are some of the same people who were at one time trying to equate Immersion with either Fraud or Mental Illness, so go figure.

But for most gamers, as fun as rolling dice can be, the real epic moment is that instant where you are totally immersed in the game, where you are just your character, and almost forget you're playing a game.  Where it feels real.

Any time that you are suddenly interrupted and told "roll the dice" is a moment that snaps you out of that state, at least a tiny bit.  It interrupts immersion.

There's a reason why players of games like Amber, Lords of Olympus, or Lords of Gossamer and Shadow, end up talking to everyone who'll listen (and some who don't care to) about these intense roleplaying experiences, campaigns full of epic character development and close personal attachment to the game: it's because in these games, the rules almost disappear for the player.  You just know your strengths and weaknesses, and you just play your guy. You don't have to fiddle with points, you don't have to interrupt what you're describing to roll the dice.

If anything, if the point is to get the best possible roleplay experience, the exact OPPOSITE of what the anti-GM crowd are suggesting is the ideal scenario: the GM should roll all the dice.

That's a theoretical, of course. There are plenty of players for whom the rolling of dice is part of the fun, even if it's not the central aspect of RPG play.  And there's a reason why the formula that's worked so well all these decades is one where both GM and players roll dice at particular times and to varying degrees. But really, of the various options (no dice, GM  rolls all, Players and GM both roll, only players roll), the least useful for developing roleplay and immersion is the scenario where all the dice-rolling responsibility falls on the players.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Poker + Rattray's Marlin Flake

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Golden Age Campaign Update

This weekend we ran an adventure which saw the first major change in roster for the JSA in several years: Starman, Daredevil, Green Lantern, Flash and Doctor Fate all passed to reservist status for a variety of reasons, while Wildcat and Mr. Terrific joined the JSA to bolster its ranks. 

This new team had greatly reduced power, and so asked the Mystery Men along for a particularly dangerous mission: their acquaintances in the sunken city of Atlantis had been attacked by an advanced Nazi U-boat, under the command of Captain Zahl:

Who stole the legendary Trident of Poseidon with the help of an army of Deep Ones (which the nazis subsequently betrayed, but not before taking a few Spawn of Cthulhu with them).  The combined Mystery Men/JSA team-up had to recover the trident and destroy the Spawn before the Nazis could use both as a last-ditch effort to turn the war around.

With a bit of help from the Blackhawks, they managed to do just that, but not before several hijinks ensued; including Hourman being temporarily controlled by Poseidon himself, and the Atom discovering he had mutated a superpowered Atomic Punch as a result of radiation exposure he'd suffered a couple of years back.

The PCs also met the Atlantean Regency Council leader Vulko:

They learned from Vulko that the last king of Atlantis had recently died, and that there was currently a sort of 'succession crisis' going on that left unclear who would take the Atlantean throne.  No sign of a guy in green pants and orange scale mail just yet, but it was yet another of a variety of signs that had appeared in the campaign over the last few years that the seeds of the silver age are present.


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

Nobody Told me There'd Be Regular Meetings Like These..

Monday's blog entry was cancelled because I ended up spending the last 12 hours (note, till 4am!) doing Masonic business.  

Who'd have thought that being in charge of the local group dedicated to secret world domination would be really hard work?!

Sure was fun, though.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Bent Billiard + C&D's Crowley's Best

Sunday 17 August 2014

“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 Obession 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 construced-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 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 “bluff”, 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.


Currently Smoking: Castello 4k Collection Canadian + Image Latakia

(originally reposted May 21, 2013, on the old blog)

Saturday 16 August 2014

The Giant-Sized D&D Backgrounds Collection Thread

I've been super busy lately writing up a storm for Dark Albion; last night in a frenzy of writing I got down a truly awesome chapter on 15th century Albion Law and Punishments.  It'll be a highly-accurate section on how late medieval law should look, portable to any other fantasy RPG setting that wants that kind of authenticity.   We've got everything there from sumptuary laws to petit-treason to a historically-accurate list of fines for petty offenses.

Next I'm going to doing a similarly accurate section on wealth and prices of goods.

In any case, for my blog entry today I thought I'd share a link to a little idea I had for a project on theRPGsite:  this thread is going to be a depository thread for any and all (free) D&D backgrounds available on the internet.  So that if someone wants to find some D&D backgrounds, they won't need to search through dozens of blogs or fan sites, they'll just be able to go to the RPGsite's mega thread and find member-submitted backgrounds, backgrounds ported from other locations, and links to backgrounds posted on blogs.

I predicted there'd be all kinds of stuff being done as fan-efforts for D&D 5e and that backgrounds would be one of the chief among them, particularly since you could use backgrounds as readily for an OSR game as for D&D; and I can see that this is rapidly becoming true.
So, if you have written up some backgrounds for D&D, or if you know of some that are really worthy of standing out, make sure to post them on that thread!

Ok, now I'm off to get another hour of writing done before my ICONS game..


Currently Smoking: Moretti Rhodesian + Gawith's Squadron Leader

Friday 15 August 2014

If You Were At Gencon Right Now You Might See... Victory.


Which is awesome, and not something I expected at all (I have nothing to do with the production of these shirts, by the way; I believe Zak doesn't either).

But it also sums up nicely what we've learned is the real issue of the past 45 days' clusterfuck: D&D is better thanks to Zak S & the RPGPundit.

That's what it all comes down to.  Because this whole thing was very clearly not about Social Justice, as any and all claims that I was racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic have been proven to be either false or more often, INTENTIONALLY false (that is, knowingly fabricated as an effort at character assassination).  That means that not only was sexism, racism, homophobia or transphobia never what was at issue, but the people who were out to get me and Zak were quite willing to throw the reputation of those causes under the bus by knowingly lying about them for the sake of weaponizing them against us.

Which if you're really someone who cares about racism, sexism, or prejudice against LGBT (as indeed I am) that's just about the most despicable thing you can possibly do.  It's worse to knowingly make up lies about someone being transphobic than to say or do transphobic things in the first place, because by making up lies or knowingly false accusations you end up damaging the reputation of legitimate issues and legitimate cases of transphobia; people don't know what to take seriously or not anymore, once the lie is caught and discredited.  So the people who made up these lies about me are, from a social justice point of view, the absolute scum of the earth.

With that out of the way, that means that all it comes down to is this question: as this is not in any way about any real claims of sexism, racism or LGBT-phobia, the only thing under consideration is whether it is more important that D&D is better thanks to Zak and the RPGPundit, or that Zak and the Pundit are sometimes mean to people (99% of whom are people who don't actually like D&D and want it to do badly)?

Does it matter more that Zak and I are aggressive to assholes and liars, and often do so in defense of D&D against people who want to see D&D fail; or does it matter more that we had an influence on 5th edition being what it is and looking how it does (I don't mean the art, which is awesome but I can take no credit for, but rather 'looking' in the sense of being a game that has very strong Old-School sensitivities), and that this is something that has been widely praised?

It should also be kept in mind that at least some of the people who are doing the attacking here are people who have either always condemned or rejected D&D, or who had hailed 4e as their final justice where D&D was finally the 'gamist' skirmish-competition-game it was supposed to be cornered into becoming all along, and comfortably neutered from having real protagonism in the hobby when it comes to ideas?

I think it should, because these people have used me and Zak to get at 5th Edition D&D.  They saw that it was going to be vastly popular (and significantly, vastly more popular than the GNS-inspired 4th edition of the game), and that they'd just be marginal voices of sour-grapeing if they went after the rules or system, so instead they tried to get a boycott going based on utterly made-up outrages they libelously  heaped on the two guys who had been so mean to them all along; the guys they thought so inferior to their own pseudo-intellectual sophistication, and who they were aghast to see WoTC turn to as ideological inspirations for the new edition.

Yeah, DIY Zak and Old-School Pundit. Not regular-gamer-hating Ron Edwards, Vince Baker, etc etc. Not the pretentious sophisticates who always wanted their vision imposed by force on the 'unwashed masses' of 'brain damaged roleplayers' who they felt didn't know what was best for them, but Zak and the Pundit: guys who embody the style that actually believes in D&D, and believes in gamers, that says that the way people actually play and have (in the vast majority) always played is the best way to play, and the best possible way to design an RPG is to design it for how people like to play. And NOT to try to invent something new through dubious theories and then try to change the culture of the hobby to force people to play that new way.

In other words, the Grognards they loved to make fun of are now the guys in charge.  Old School has won. And they lost.

And that's what ALL of this bullshit of the past month has been about. It's why they hate us so much; it's all because "D&D is better thanks to Zak S & the RPGPundit".


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia

Thursday 14 August 2014

Some Conclusions From The Great July/August Outrage War

Let's see what all this shitstorm has actually accomplished:

In the past month, and directly BECAUSE of this whole controversy, my blog readership has doubled, theRPGsite has grown significantly in posting volume (though a lot of that might just be because of the 5e launch itself),  my book sales have gone up considerably, and I got a new consulting job.

So the end result of all of the Outrage Brigade's efforts is that they've made me more famous and made me more money.

I still probably don't think it's worth the stress and hassle I've had to go through, mind you, but there's no question that if their goal was to make me less successful, they've failed miserably.

Case in point: my own RPG writing.  There was a considerable boost of my book sales, partly because of the greater attention given to me thanks to the Outrage Brigade, and in some cases because people directly bought my books as a token of support.

The bump in sales was so significant that a couple of weeks ago it pushed Arrows of Indra's PDF on rpgnow from 'copper' to 'silver' status.    Shall we try to see if we can get it to Gold?

It's no doubt helped with Lords of Olympus too, and right now Precis is having a Lords of Olympus sale where you can buy the glorious LoO FULL-Colour book for only $39.95, or the black & white version for $24.95 (the colour version is worth the difference, in my opinion!). The offer is only good until Sunday, so don't delay!

I feel like it's a pity that Albion won't likely be coming out until sometime next year; I'm insanely jealous of Zak S' book coming out so soon after all this because I have no doubt the outrage-brigade's antics will help him.

I've been sent more books for review, been contacted for more projects, been presented with opportunities for consulting (one of which I have taken just now, and may be talking about later depending on how things go) than ever before.

So yeah... is this winning? Well, I don't know about that. The shit I've had to go through this past month I would not wish on anyone (except maybe the very people that inflicted it on me).  And I feel like they've been neither denounced nor punished enough, though I do feel they've been discredited and made a laughing-stock by the people in the hobby that care to know.  I'm pretty sure they'll be having a much harder time trying to do this kind of libelous attack on false grounds against anyone else in the future; I don't doubt they'll try, but people won't forget the lies they slung this time around.  And I promise, Swine, I'll be right there to remind everyone.

So maybe not quite what I'd call victory, but I'm not even crying my way to the bank.  I'm richer, more famous, and more in-demand for all their efforts. So even if I wouldn't say this feels quite like I 'won' (not yet, at least), I can say that my attackers very very definitely LOST.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Rhodesian + Image Latakia

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Not at Gencon? Want to get the Best Gencon Coverage? Look Here!

The internet seems quiet all of a sudden, particularly after the shitstorm of the last month.  Of course, the reason is Gencon.  People are too busy actually paying attention to the fucking hobby to spend their time fighting, it would seem

In any case, this is yet another year I don't get to be at Gencon.  One of these years, that might be remedied, who knows?  But until then, I'm glad that at least for every year since theRPGsite came to be, I've been able to have the next-best experience to actually being there.

I'm talking of course, about theRPGsite's by-now-tradition of Zack's Gencon thread.

It is, without a doubt, the BEST gencon-coverage you'll find anywhere. 

So if you want to see everything that's happening where you didn't get to be this year either, do check it out!


Currently Smoking: Neerup Egg + Image Latakia

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Lords of Olympus: Curses and Benedictions

In Lords of Olympus, the power to utter divine curses and benedictions is part of Olympian Magic, though my own feeling is that in a LoO campaign, this should also be a power which other creatures and beings may have.  I had almost considered separating the curses/benedictions power from Olympian Magic itself.  The reason is mainly that this is a very important part of evoking the feeling of Greek Myth in the game.

A lot of Greek Myth ties in with ideas of destiny; there are things that are not destined, and that depend on the ability or choices of individuals, but there are things that absolutely ARE destined, in a magical sense, that in one form or another MUST come to pass.  In many cases, this issue of destiny becomes a major source of drama (and often tragedy).  Thus, in a Lords of Olympus campaign, I would strongly urge the GM to encourage the use of Curses and Benediction.  Without some kind of subtle encouragement, PCs might be very reluctant to use such a terrible power, in part because of the 10-point cost to luck.

What the Players should come to see (through GM example!) is that Curses and Benedictions can have massive significant effects in a game.  The GM should ideally demonstrate this by having NPCs make use of this power, and then making it clear to the players what a major force this power has.  The GM also has to be careful, while not avoiding the collateral damage that a well-worded Curse or Benediction can cause, to avoid any temptation to end up discouraging the use of curses (or benedictions) out of fear that the GM will just make it come around and bite the would-be curse-er in the ass.  The idea of collateral effects is in place to make people think about how they use Curses or Benedictions, and NOT to be used to just make these powers so inevitably self-damaging as to not be worth it; take my word for it, the 10 point cost will be more than enough to keep players from just frivolously throwing around curses (or benedictions).  Thus, when they do show a willingness the pay that cost, the GM shouldn’t make it any harder for them.

And it should be very powerful, a curse when uttered should be enough to make even the most powerful God very nervous. Fate cannot be avoided, only mitigated; and while a Benediction can remove the effects of a curse, that still brings a serious cost to whomever utters it; and it depends, of course, on the victim of the curse knowing that he has been cursed, which is not always evident!  I would go so far in my own game (though I did not explicitly state it in the rules) that a benediction could only remove a curse if the person giving the benediction knows what the curse was and who uttered it (this makes the matter much more interesting than a costly-but-routine reaction to being cursed). And of course, any effects already manifested by a curse will not simply go away by the granting of a benediction.

Finally, as I mentioned above, Curses and Benedictions need not be the exclusive domain of Olympian Magic users.  On the one hand, I could see very ancient and powerful creatures having access to this same ability.  Certain Primordials, without a doubt, would be able to do something equivalent to curses or benedictions, only in their case it probably shouldn’t cost them anything (however, just what kinds of curses or benedictions they can cause should be limited by their alien mentality and their specific primordial interests).

Similarly, there should be world/realm-specific “magic” that mortals might learn that allows for the creating of curses and benedictions as well; however, these would not be nearly as powerful as the Divine Curses or Benedictions available to those with access to Olympian Magic.  In most cases, this mortal-curse or mortal-benediction power should only be able to apply in the specific world where it is given; and simply avoiding that world would allow one to “escape” the curse (not to mention changing reality on that world, of course).  It could also be conceivable for there to be a kind of “Promethean Curse” power that mortal magicians could make use of, that could work in a greater range of the multiverse; though again in this case someone with access to the reality-altering powers of Olympian Magic should be able to rid themselves of its effects.


Currently Smoking: Mastro De Paja Bent Billiard + Rattray’s Marlin Flake

(originally posted May 17, 2013)