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Saturday 28 February 2015

The OSR and Women

Over on G+, Stacy Dellorfano (founder of the excellent Contessa convention), asked the slightly loaded question "Why does the OSR have a bad reputation among women"?  Loaded it may have been, but it came out of her own experiences, no doubt.  Even so,  the premise is wrong: the OSR does NOT have a bad reputation among women. I can understand why she thinks it does, but the problem is not to do with anything about OSR games themselves.

Evidence: there are TONS of women gamers who play OSR games, which are becoming increasingly popular.  In Uruguay.
Here, in Uruguay, I've had lots of women eager to play old-school games.  My current gaming roll call has four women who all play in old-school games of mine (right now, as of last month, all I'm presently running are old-school games) and they all love them.

Now, MY old-school games are very heavy on setting, rich details, lots and lots of NPCs to interact with, plots (not in the "story-making" sense but in the sense that lots of characters and groups have agendas and figuring out what's happening and who is doing what is part of the fun), humor, and probably a bit more focus on relationships than a lot of dungeon-crawl OSR games might.  But I know other old-school groups here have women players and might look like more orthodox dungeon-crawl games.  Its no problem.

For the record, the games I'm running right now with women players are my "Dark Albion" campaign (a fantasy-england version of the War of the Roses) and my "Last Sun" DCC campaign (a totally crazy gonzo post-apocalyptic sci-fantasy setting that takes a lot of inspiration from stuff like Moorcock, Vance, and Adventure Time). I didn't get any women to play the recently-finished ICONS or the recently-started Traveller; so you could even argue that OSR games are more popular and of interest to Uruguayan women gamers than superheroes or hard-sci-fi.

So my conclusion is this: the premise is wrong because the real question should be "Why does the OSR have a Bad Reputation among Anglophone North American Women Gamers Who Go On The Internet?"
I think that the game-component has NOTHING to do with the answer to that.

The 'bad reputation' that does exist has little to nothing to do with the GAMES themselves, it has to do with a number of other factors:
a) The internet RPG culture, which sees the OSR being routinely denigrated by the post-forge pseudo-activist would-be gatekeepers.  This is the big one: to a large extent, women online end up being not pushed but shoved away from even considering the OSR by a massive anti-OSR propaganda campaign.  Which explains why in Uruguay, where most of the large gaming community don't spend their time reading english-language gaming discussions and where Storygaming is largely unpopular while Old-school is well promoted (both thanks in no small part to yours truly), women actually end up trying and liking OSR games in roughly the same proportions as men do.

b) more generally than that, the RPG culture in North America, which is very different from what I've found in South America.  I think a lot of it has to do with stigmas created in the early days of the hobby (outside the hobby: that D&D is something only gross nerdy boys do; inside the hobby: that all kinds of fucked up shit regarding social-misfits, identity-politics, fake-sophistication, nerds being intimidated by women, etc. etc.), that didn't end up 'travelling' to other parts with the hobby.

c) Most generally of all, North American Anglophone culture and some of its ideas, and conflicts, on gender.

So the answer is really that if you want to ask that question to achieve an honest result (and not just crap on the OSR), you need to be exploring those factors, and not just be tempted to either raise up your hands and blame "patriarchy" or claim that "women just don't like D&D" (either as an excuse to exclude them or as an excuse to try to push out D&D in favor of promoting your latest storygame).


Currently Smoking: Mastro de Paja bent apple + Gawith's Squadron Leader

Friday 27 February 2015

Nice to See That the RPGnet Reality-Bubble is Stronger Than Ever

Man, it feels like years since I've had reason to write a blog post bitching about RPGnet (or more aptly, "").  Honestly, after the debacles of the last few years they'd become almost irrelevant, no one takes them seriously anymore, most decent gamers who know better don't go there, most industry figures left there from the rampant hostility the forum displays to any games that don't fit their ruling clique's interest.

But someone pointed out to me a thread, 34 pages long as of writing this, where they were talking about the Escapist, and peppered it with blatant outright lies about me that everyone there has unanimously just accepted as truth. For 34 pages. 34 pages of repeated confirmation of totally verifiably untrue things, with not one statement of correction to be found, or indeed, even questioning or requesting a source.  Just blind fucking acceptance of what fits their imaginary bullshit 'narrative'.

In the alternate universe that exists only in their own minds, I'm apparently a gamergater and an MRA, who has been hired to write for "The Escapist's MRA site".  Do I have a goatee and go around wearing a fancy sash, too?  Oh, oh!! Do I get a cool scar on my face that makes it clear I'm Alternate-Universe Pundit?

Motherfucking morons.

This pretty much sums up why no one should ever take them seriously; it's a pity that there's still a number of gamers (RPG gamers, not 'gamergaters' or whatever) who write there out of a naive belief in all the years of bullshit propaganda they've laid on theRPGsite, in spite of -or, let's face it, BECAUSE of- theRPGsite being a much better place to actually talk about RPGs.   These are people who never once bothered to check if their stories were true.

And likewise, over on Tangency, we see thirty-four fucking pages of people saying, with no backing evidence, no links, no nothing, that I'm apparently a gamergater/MRA writing for "an MRA site".

You can say a lot of things about, but it very clearly has fuck all to do with the "men's right movement', and little if anything to do with 'gamergate'.   But hey, when has something like REALITY ever stopped these assholes?  Even the most cursory glimpse of the site would make the lie totally obvious, as you could review page after page of it and what you'd find is a large variety of Libertarian and Conservative viewpoints, but nary a page of writing about either of those subjects.

Maybe I was being called a gamergater for my recent article in support of Net Neutrality? Is that something gamergaters support? I wouldn't know, because I'm not even a (video) gamer, in the sense of literally not playing any video games, unless my sole computer-game addiction to Candy Crush, counts (level 518, bitches!)?

Or wait, maybe I'm an MRA-er because of the article I wrote there where I talked about how it's crucially important that women in general and feminists in particular be engaged in the study of History at universities?

No, I don't think it's either of those.  I think its just a couple of people willingly and intentionally LYING about me, and a whole mass of imbeciles choosing to accept that lie, sight unseen, with nary a link of proof to back it up. Because they desperately want to exist in an artificial reality where anyone who doesn't think like they do must, of necessity, be guilty of everything they want to define as evil.  

I'm waiting now to see them accuse me of transphobia (they've already all but done it by association now) in spite of what I said on the subject not two days ago in terms of why a show like I Hit It With My Axe is really important, while tearing homophobic asshole John C. Wright a new one (yet somehow keeping my job intact, in spite of Defy Media's "purgings" of people who are pro-LGBT; oh wait, right, that's only happening in Imaginary RPGnet Alternate-Universe, which seems more like a projection of the kind of ideological fascism they get wood for over there).
And, you know, writing the first RPG ever to feature a heroic trans character on the cover.

Bubble away, assholes.


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

Thursday 26 February 2015

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 it's 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 it's very fair that I bring it up; it's 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, it's 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!

Suddenly, out of nowhere, this happens:

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 

(originally posted January 30, 2014)

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Why I Wish Zak & Mandy Had Stuck Around at the Escapist

So if you haven't yet heard the news from the last couple of days, after having announced that they were going to be doing another round of their very successful "I Hit it With My Axe" series on the Escapist (a video series where Porn Stars and Strippers hang out playing D&D), there was a surprise twist where Zak announced that he was cancelling his deal with the Escapist and would never work with them again on account of the Escapist having hired Brandon Morse, who had posted a tweet in November 2014 saying "If you want to be trans, then you go right ahead. Don't force everyone else to pretend along with you".

For the record, according to the management of the Escapist with whom I got in touch, Morse was hired by the Escapist to "write a weekly round up of video game news" and, they added "he has been explicitly instructed to leave his politics behind. We have been outspoken that our 2015 vision for the site is one focused on escapism, not politics." I was pointed to the recent announcement on the new direction for the Escapist, and that "the 2015 vision for the site is focused on escapism, not politics".

Now, since Zak's group has LGBT people in it, they particularly felt like they could not be working for the same website that would hire someone who would express transphobia in that way.  I totally get that. Morse is very clearly an ass, and that's about the kindest thing that could be said about his view on this issue.

And I get, and support, Zak & Mandy & co.'s right to choose not to work at the Escapist for the reasons they've chosen not to.  They've done this at some cost, though it's not clear just how much cost that actually is (I mean, from what I understand the Escapist isn't demanding that Zak return any of the money they already invested in the project). I'm sure regardless, with their smarts, they'll be finding a new venue, and given that he's a renowned artist and just produced the hottest indie rpg product of the year, I'm sure he won't be at a lack for things to do.

But I wish they had chosen to stay. I don't think they're wrong in what they feel, and I don't think they're wrong per se for leaving but I think they'd have been more right if they'd stuck around.  Let me explain why.

I write on (you can find my latest article, on how to make a free-market argument FOR Net Neutrality here).  Unlike the Escapist, Everyjoe is an explicitly political website, it will have people making explicit political statements on it (whereas, again, Morse has been explicitly told to keep his politics out of the Escapist).   The general bent of Everyjoe is what you could call "South Park Libertarian", a mix of people who are socially SUPER-libertine, economically super-capitalist, tend to be into philosophy and political theory, and are generally pro-sex and pro-drugs.  But there are some exceptions among the writing staff, like we have one guy there who's an end-of-the-world Survivalist (and has a very big very loyal following of readers, that tend not to read or engage with the rest of the site).  He's a bit weird, but cool enough, and doesn't really bug anyone (why should he? I'm pretty sure he thinks we'll all end up starving to death when the zombie hordes are unleashed).

Then you have John C. Wright.  He's there too.  Let me make something clear: Wright is human smegma.  He's a reactionary ultracatholic asshole, who spews hate-laced intellectual drivel out of his mouth while trying to form arguments that would have sounded quaint in the 15th century; stuff like "the reason why we make a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children is because we make a distinction between chastity and fornication, that is, a distinction between sex inside marriage versus sex outside marriage" - no, you asshole, no sane and rational person still believes that there's a moral deficiency in babies whose parents weren't bonded for life in a ceremony approved by your Sky Grandpa.  He may be known as a sci-fi writer, but his social policy comes straight out of a Medieval Fantasy, namely the one he's having in his own head.  He's the type of person who'd probably describe the Renaissance as 'mostly a bad idea', and think of the Age of Enlightenment as 'the fall of civilization'.

  I have probably disagreed with the gist of everything the man has ever written, and I find him a despicable human being, as indeed I would any worthless shitface that uses the term "homosex agenda" with deadly seriousness.

Now, I honestly believe that it does Everyjoe no particular good having Wright and his absurd, grotesque, sickeningly primitive and ultimately anti-intellectual ideas around (anyone who seriously believes that two penises touching will cause an eternity of hellfire because a man in silky robes and a pointy hat with a history of suspicious behaviour around altar boys told him Sky Grandpa said so, and then calls that "reason", is an anti-intellectual in my book; and is a deluded ass blindly embracing the insane superstitions of a dogmatic megacult, no matter how many big words he tries to mask his stupidity with).  I think it will ultimately draw in very few (most people who would agree with Wright will be extreme religious conservatives, and therefore prudes, and thus would not engage with the site as a whole), and run the risk of turning off the South Park Libertarians who naturally dislike that kind of social-conservative bullshit being preached at them, and generally dislike outright sexual and gender bigots overall.  I would cheer if  John C. Wright were gone from Everyjoe tomorrow.

But I don't think me quitting Everyjoe because of John C. Wright would serve any purpose at all. On the contrary, it would do more harm than good.   So long as the site doesn't require me to endorse Wright's shitty shitty ideas, or to be silent on what I think of him outside the confine of the website (we'll see what my Invincible Overlord thinks of this blog entry, but I feel pretty confident that the site's commitment to freedom of opinion will mean that I'll still be working for Everyjoe tomorrow, or in a month or a year, for that matter), I don't see my presence there as something that helps Wright's 'cause' in any ways.   I can instead provide a completely contrary set of ideas than Wright does, about freedom of expression, about the value of liberty, about why we must oppose the tyranny of Religious Theocrats as much as we do they tyranny of self-styled social engineers, of what the conservative's opinion on things like sex and homosexuality etc. OUGHT to be (hint: it should be "everyone has the inherent and absolute right to do what they want with their own lives, bodies, and sexuality, government shouldn't force any moral view on anyone"), and generally present a vision of Individualism that works directly against his Religious Collectivism.   I cut off Wright's hateful theocratic bullshit at the knees just by being there, in the same place he calls home, and by making a better argument than he does.   I piss him off more by my presence than I ever would by my absence (as I have no doubt Zak's crew being on the Escapist would have pissed Morse off more than their leaving it has).

And I'm confident that the ideas I subscribe to are better ideas than the ones Wright espouses (after all, they created those little things like Democracy and Liberty, while his created the Holy Inquisition and the Wars of Religion). I'm confident that my philosophy is more sound than his dogma, and that I'll be ultimately more appealing to the potential audience Everyjoe is seeking to grow.

And all this is in an environment where politics actually enters into it.  Over at the Escapist, it doesn't; Morse won't get to say what he thinks about trans people there, but Zak and Mandy could have sure SHOWN us trans people in a way that would have inherently sent a message without the need to say anything explicitly.

Again, I don't blame Zak for choosing to leave, I respect his decision, but it also wasn't particularly anything I'd define as "heroic".  I don't condemn him for going, but fundamentally, what he did in the end was to concede the field, and to concede it in the worst possible place to concede it. Because it's one thing to get applauded for "taking a stand" by a large swath of people who already agree with your views, but it's another thing completely to change minds.  I like writing on Everyjoe for any number of reasons, but one important one is that I know there are conservatives reading there that have certain ideas about things, be it the "war on christmas", global warming,  Islam, Feminism, Christian Values, or others, and that while no self-styled liberal or 'activist' or what-have-you is likely to change their mind on these subjects, there's a chance that reading something from a conservative viewpoint that presents a totally different (conservative) perspective on all of them might just change someone's view.  In  world where punditry increasingly consists of tribalism, increasingly the only way to change views is from the inside of a tribe.

By leaving, Zak got a lot of applause from people who are already in agreement with him, but he gave up the chance to even try to win over anyone over at the Escapist, the gamers who read the site and who might be the ones most in need of convincing.  By staying, Zak, Mandy, & Co. could have unleashed a weapon far more powerful than some moron's tweet; they could have shown anyone who goes to the Escapist, without the need for any off-putting preachy sermonizing, an awesome show featuring a bunch of LGBT and sex-positive people in it, geeking out on D&D old-school style, and generally creating a powerfully memorable positive impression on the viewers which could have actually changed minds.

I think it's a pity that's not going to happen.


Currently Smoking: Italian Redbark + Image Latakia

Tuesday 24 February 2015

EveryJoe Tuesday: A Free-Market Defense of Net Neutrality, With a LOT of Profanity

You know your uncle, dad, grandpa, brother-in-law, maybe sister-in-law, whoever it is, that keeps posting dumb right-wing articles in your Facebook or G+ stream (almost certainly Facebook), or even by email? Here's your chance to get revenge by sending them a smart right-wing article that might actually get them thinking about whether they're on the right side of the Net Neutrality debate.

One of these sides makes more money the harder they make it for me to do stuff on the internet. The other side makes more money the more stuff they let me see or do on the internet. I know which side I’m going to back in that race. I don’t get why anyone who actually loves the internet wouldn’t be backing that same side too

Read more: A Conservative Defense of Net Neutrality, as Profanity-Free As Possible

As always, comments are closed here, please go comment over there! If you do, I promise I'll answer any arguments or questions as best I can.  Please reshare, comment, like, +1, etc. as much as possible! Thanks! And I bet your crazy right-wing uncle will be happy to hear from you, because you never call, you selfish bastard.

Monday 23 February 2015

Lords of Olympus: Getting Over The Instinct to Not Give Things Out For Free

Recently, I saw someone commenting about a diceless RPG, it may have been a newbie to GMing these kinds of games (Amber, LoGaS, Lords of Olympus), who was concerned that some of his players, being in a multiverse, might ask about whether their character couldn't start with certain non-human natural abilities (claws, wings, etc) and just how to charge for and/or handle these powers.   One solution was to argue that somehow these natural qualities would go away or become useless outside of their home shadow/world/etc.

But personally, that's not the route I would go.
I'd suggest this: there are rules for how technology will work, and for laws of physics and nature. So this limits things like high-tech and magic.

But physical traits? As long as they fall within those laws of physics, there's no logical reason why they shouldn't work anywhere else.  Certainly if a PC says they're an otherwise normal human but with wings (and the power of flight) that might not work so well in a world with physics like that of our own earth, but generally speaking, the guideline should be the physical laws themselves, and not a concern that somehow having one PC sporting a pair of wings while the rest don't would in some way ruin 'game balance'.

When you're talking about games like Lords of Olympus, we're in a whole other ball park of power, and of costs.  The least important 'cost' in Lords of Olympus is 'points'.

I get the concern people have with game balance, but there are many kinds of 'game balance'.  In my campaign, if someone told me "I want to come from a world where people have wings and can fly", I would be pissing my pants with joy. Yes, I would tell them, absolutely. I would give it to them for free.

Because the relatively small advantage that would grant compared to all the possible disadvantages: sticking out like a sore thumb, being hunted by shadowy government authorities on modern Earths, being immediately identifiable, awkward fashion problems whenever they need clothing or disguises, social mockery, not registering as a human under scans, potentially having more trouble on certain worlds with strict physical laws than normal baseline humans do, all kinds of shit!

I wouldn't stress the fact they could fly. Any half-clever Amberite/Olympian/whatever can figure out how to fly pretty damn quick without having to spend a lifetime with feathers on their back. Never mind the ones who actually pay for metamorphosis/shape-shifting, or sorcery of some sort.  Those real point-cost powers? Being able to do all kinds of stuff is only half of what you're paying for; the other half is for being able to stop.

(there's even a shitload of dudes with wings on the cover!  But again, they're all people who can get rid of the wings as required)

You have to change your scale when you play Amber-type games. Having wings in D&D would be HUGE. In Amber or Lords of Olympus? It would be an aesthetic choice akin to a slightly embarrassing piercing; the cost would almost certainly outweigh the value even if the player didn't need to spend a single point to get it.


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

Sunday 22 February 2015

You Know Your LotFP Characters Are Getting Too Powerful When...

In the last two sessions of my LotFP Dark-Albion game, I had the players go through a very slightly modified version of The Monolith Beyond Space and Time (which I reviewed last year).  They got to the Monolith at the end of the first session, and then yesterday, we picked up from there.

And the PCs basically turned this:

Into this:

They owned that bitch.  You know, given the nature of that adventure, it might just be a sign that the PCs have gotten a little too powerful (they're average level 9 now, I think).

Luckily that's totally fine, because I know there's only so many more adventures left in the campaign.  And even so, there's still the risk elements caused by the total absence of resurrection magic.  In fact, in the session last nights the party nearly got casualties a couple of times, not from anything to do with the Monolith, but from encounters in places they visited with it (a Bronze Golem guarding the Paris Treasure Vault of the Frogmen, and a Bronze Dragon guarding a piece of the Lance of Mithras in the catacombs below the ruins of Corinth).

Anyways, just thought I'd share that little detail.  In spite of how easy-peasey the Monolith was, my players are still really enjoying the LotFP game and the Dark Albion campaign alike.  They're in 1479, the campaign ends in 1485, so I figure there's maybe only a dozen or so sessions left. Home Stretch.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti half-volcano + Gawith's Balkan Flake

Saturday 21 February 2015

Little Notes on Player-GM Power Relations

Ok, so one more time!  Someone has protested my recent arguments about GM authority by saying that a GM who just rejects all of his player's ideas is a bad GM.

A GM who always shoots down his players ideas is a bad GM, sure. but keep in mind:

1) It has nothing to do with "not giving the players power", nor is "let's give all the players the power so they can be a group of 4-6 Little Stalins and destroy Immersion" the right solution.


2) the reason he's a bad GM moreso than just seemingly being interested in frustrating the players, is that he's not really creating a Virtual World.  If he just arbitrarily decides "no, there's no magic shop there specifically BECAUSE I want to fuck over my players", then he's failed at his job at making a Virtual World that exists outside of his own active consciousness.

Now for part 2:  every time I make this argument someone inevitably rebuts by saying  "Well I don't know what kind of people YOU are playing, but I'm only playing with my Best Friends Who Gave Me A Kidney And I'd Trust With My Kid".  As if that makes them superior, or eliminates my point.

Well, to that I say:
a) Great for you, but so what? There's going to be lots of people who aren't in that situation, who are not playing as a way to keep the old gang of fuckheads you knew since elementary together, but are rather playing for the sake of gaming itself. Most groups I know and most groups I've been with have consisted of people who generally get along but aren't all Besties 4 Ever.

b) You seriously NEVER have a fight with your friends? My BEST, closest friends are people I argue with and bitch about constantly, and vice-versa. It's a feature of being friends at that close a level, the very same level of friendship which defines that intense trust also defines that you can feel safe to fight about stupid things. So don't give me this bullshit that "playing with your friends" means you don't need ONE GUY to be the ultimate deciding Authority. It probably means you need it MORE.

And seriously, if everyone at your table is your best friend, including your GM, what kind of an asshole are you to not trust your very best friend to have absolute authority over your life with respect to a game for a handful of hours a week?  Some friend you are, you cunt.


Currently Smoking: Masonic Meerschaum + Image Perique

Friday 20 February 2015

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 

(Originally posted January 22, 2014)

Thursday 19 February 2015

DCC Campaign Update: "Kill Bill (the Elf)!"

DCC Campaign Update: "Kill Bill (the Elf)!", or "Treason, Betrayal, and Latinamerican In-Jokes"

In this week's regrettable adventure of double-crosses and betrayals, the PCs:

-Continued to express serious doubts as to whether there was any truth to the idea that just because Marvin the Cleric was "the chosen one" it would in any way mean that he'd get any special protections from G.O.D.

-discovered that at least one chaos cult had ended up kidnapping the wrong cleric, making mistaken assumptions about who the "chosen one" was.

-had the clerics wondering exactly what universe some of the other player characters lived in, where they could assume that G.O.D. was even marginally competent at anything.

-got suckered by a pit trap/ambush by the "Mouth Clan" of berserker hooligans (ultraviolent barbarians notable for their blue and yellow shirts) in the downtown areas of the ruins of Port Goodwind.

-witnessed the unlikely scenario of Bill the Elf getting three corruptions in a single round of combat!

-noted that when accused of being an idiot, Bill the Elf's response was "didn't you know that already?"

-are only saved from the Mouth Clan ambush by the astounding fighting skills of Sandi the Bikini-Chainmail Barbarian, some very strategic use of the Sequester spell, by Dr.Theobald leading several enraged Mouth hooligans into a trap by impersonating a Bolivian, and by the shocking discovery that Jaluddin the Rogue was in fact with the party all along, but is just really good at Not Being Seen.

-decide that the Mouth Clan hooligans having been momentarily dealt with, but the party being extremely wounded, they decide that the best option would be to hide out for the night in the ruins of a fin-de-siecle Cafe.

-discovered that was not a great idea, and that the 'cafe tortono' is really not what it used to be, as the reason there was no sign of Mouth Clan Hooligans around was because of the giant Cafe Ooze that was using the ruins as its lair.  The place still has tourist value, but there's no longer any good coffee to be found there, and the cost of going in is too great.

-choose to run for it, figuring that they're far too wounded to be able to take down a Cafe Ooze.

-discover a series of graffiti wall-scrawlings that appear to explain this bizarre place, with the blood-stained palace and the broken obelisk with a Mouth drawn on it, and the overabundance of fake tango bars: apparently it was once a moderately nice civilization, until the locals began to deify a mad general and his dilettante wife, leading to a mythos-worthy orgy of political, economic, and social self-destruction until nothing was left but a pile of rubble inhabited by delusional madmen still trying to pretend they are a great nation.

-curiously end up finding refuge in a semi-ruined church.

-find said church occupied by the decidedly fake cleric-shyster Reverendo Oswaldo Hijo de Puta (or as his congregants call him, "el reverendo hijo de puta"), and his congregation of mostly gullible old women.

-accept the opportunity to stay overnight at the church for a 'donation', but unsurprisingly aren't interested in purchasing the good Reverend's holy anointing oil, sin-cleansing soaps, or miracle shrouds.  Even in spite of him offering a very favorable exchange rate for the Goodwind Peso from the "gold piece blue" rate.

-remain largely unaware that two of their own party have designs to betray the group and prevent G.O.D. from rebooting from an earlier version; but so far Bill the Elf has been unable to steal the Sacred USB from Marvin the Cleric (being under the suspicious eye of Sandi the Bikini-Chainmail Barbarian Warrior, who's clearly shown herself to be badass enough to potentially kick the shit out of Bill); while meanwhile Rickandra has to deal with a demon-patron that's just not made for these sorts of intrigues, as the Lord of All Flesh's best idea thus far is to have Rickandra draw up a magic circle that would conjure up one of the Lord of All Flesh's Infinite Sphincters as a means to spirit the USB away from G.O.D.'s reach forever.

-Find that the Lord of All Flesh does have at least some use, however, when Rickandra is able to cause a spontaneous orgy among the Reverend and his congregants, as a means to make sure none of them will be able to betray or rob the party as they rest up for the night.

-are surprised to discover the next morning that the Reverend has spinned this church-profaning debauchery as a "miracle"; "of course it's a miracle!", he says, "it would have to be for anyone to want to sleep with most of my congregants!"

-decide, as a party, to get out of Goodwind as quickly as possible, as (much to Bill the Elf's chagrin) they can't even wreck this civilization, since its inhabitants have already done a sterling job of that themselves.

-take advantage of the Rev. Hijo de Puta's offer to have his cousin (Ernesto Hijo de Puta) get them out of town in his Peruvian-drawn cart, for only 30000 pesos (or 12 gp, with the "blue" exchange rate) apiece.

-discover, in spite of Bill's best efforts, that Bill the Elf also plans to take advantage of the situation, bribing Ernesto and conspiring with him to have the Mouth Clan Hooligans ambush them and kill Marvin.

-don't realize, however, that Bill has also overheard Dr. Theobald exposing his planned betrayal.

-have concluded that trying to figure out where Jaluddin the Rogue is hiding is a bit like playing "where's waldo".

-see the shit completely hit the fan, as the Clerics and Bill race to take each other out first.

-watch Bill make a completely ineffectual 'first strike', managing only to light one of the Peruvians on fire.

-are all pretty surprised when it turns out the Clerics win, and G.O.D. actually comes through, incinerating Bill the Elf with a truly serious Lightning Bolt of Divine Wrath.

-proceed to loot the life's work of Bill's countless misdeeds.

-don't know that Bill the Elf had a phylactery, in Sezrekan's possession, and the restoration of G.O.D.'s authority is the one circumstance which would make Sezrekan not hesitate to revive Bill, rather than forget about him.  Thus, Bill the Elf's mind, soul and power come to reside in the body of Valerius the Human. (technically, this makes him a Human-race/Elf-class character!).

-learn that "Valerius the human", before he was lost to the phylactery, was a rogue known as "valerius the crafty", though he clearly wasn't crafty enough not to fall into Sezrekan's trap, or to convince Sezrekan that he'd be of more use than Bill the Elf.

-suspect that Sezrekan might very quickly have come to regret that strategic choice, as Bill the Elf almost immediately blows the elements of surprise and subterfuge in pursuit of quick revenge; putting the entire party on paranoid high-alert, and then proceeds to murder Rickandra, the only member of the group that shared his goals of stopping the cleric, leaving himself without potential allies.

-are jaw-droppingly shocked to find G.O.D. save the clerics a second time, by teleporting the whole party to safety!

-see Marvin the Cleric start to believe that maybe G.O.D. really is protecting him, as his Chosen One.

-unanimously agree that this means Marvin will probably die very soon.

-note that Valerius the Human (formerly Bill the Elf) failed to effectively play 'where's waldo' with Jaluddin, at the cost of taking a dagger in the lungs, and getting captured.

-finally get to the end of the Pampas of Destruction, in the border of the Vast Southern Jungle.

-get to the moment where it hits them that with Bill the Elf "dead", and without his Planar Step to rely on, they might never be able to get back to Ice Dome Zero.

-also discover that, although Dr. Theobald's Ape Kingdoms are kind of close-by, it might not be the way to go, as Dr. Theobald admits that to his embarrassment (as one would expect from an evolved ape society) they keep humans as slaves.

-decide to keep Valerius (who they have not been able to decisively figure out is in fact Bill, but all agree he's clearly highly suspicious) bound as a prisoner as they enter the jungle.

-quickly discover, and try to make a deal with, a group of suit-wearing Green Mutants with suspicious behaviour.  They seem to know where the "Church of St.Ignatius of File Not Found" is located, and so the party hand themselves over in the hopes of bribing their "jefe" in exchange for being led there.

-overhear the Green Mutants acting quite concerned about the PCs' interest in the Church, and wondering if the PCs aren't actually part of "el DEA", whatever that is.

-Slowly start to figure out that they've stumbled upon a secret base of some kind of drug dealers, who may in fact be using the old Church of St. Ignatius as their warehouse.

-Are led to the palatial jungle mansion/hideout of 'el Jefe', who turns out to be none other than "Slothy" Rodriguez, the Uzi-wielding Vicious Sloth Drug Lord they'd been warned about in the last session! Or as the players immediately dubbed him: "Slothface".

There ended the session.  It wasn't entirely satisfying; Bill the Elf got what he deserved, and because of his Phylactery was able to survive (albeit with shittier physical stats and having lost most of his impressive amounts of stuff), while Rickandra died a permanent death at Bill's hands that the player could do nothing at all to prevent.  Rickandra's player felt it was quite unfair, and it was.  It was in-character for Bill the Elf to do it, but it was still a deeply shitty and frustrating way for him to go, and I felt quite unsatisfied with how it all went down, and thinking I could have or should have made some other sort of call as a GM there.

Now Rickandra's player has come in with a new level-1 graduate, a Purple Mutant Cyclops Thief, which I hope he'll come to like as much as Rick/Rickandra.  Meanwhile, Sezrekan's patience with Bill the Elf will only go so far.


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

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Follow-up on Yesterday's Article: Young Evangelicals and the Doom of the Religious Right

So over in the comments to my latest article, there was an interesting argument put to me, that I thought I should answer.  And since I think the Invincible Overlord will have my head if I wrote one more article on how much Christianity sucks on his right-wing political website, I figured I'd post this over here.

The argument made: "At present, surveys show that about 40% of the USA is young-earth creationist. About that same number believes that Jesus will return within their lifetimes. That's probably the single biggest voting bloc in the country, and it votes overwhelmingly for the GOP. I don't see any way that the GOP could walk away from those voters and survive.
Those numbers are lower among the young, so ditching the religious right would make the GOP more appealing to young voters. However, young voters are not an overwhelmingly Liberatrian bloc. Judging by Facebook, for example, Rand Paul (a well-known figure on the Libertarian fringe of the GOP) is roughly on par with Elizabeth Warren (a well-known figure on the Socialist fringe of the Democrats)."

My answer is:  As I pointed out in the first part of this series, the thing that's happening with young evangelicals in the U.S. isn't really that they're becoming less religious, but that they are abandoning (the political force known as) the Religious Right. There is a deep disillusionment among young evangelicals, who may very well be young-earth creationists and believers in an imminent eschaton, with the idea of involving politics with religion in the way Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Focus on the Family, the Catholic League, etc. have done.

What is happening is that young evangelicals are themselves splitting into two camps: on the one side you have what I call the "extreme drop outs for Jesus and the Coming Rapture", who believe in stepping away from the culture completely, and creating an alternate culture. They're the ones doing Homeschooling and the Quiverfull Movement and Purity Dances and Christian Courting (yes, they don't even let their kids date, or often even choose their own spouses), and this general retreat from anything to do with mainstream society. They looked at the last several decades, and how being actively involved in politics really went for U.S. Christianity, and decided that it hadn't worked.  In every area, things got worse from their point of view: more abortion, more drug legalization, gays get married, etc.  

They had started their war thinking they could create an america where Rap Music and "dungeons & dragons" were illegal, and ended up in an America where children are getting sex changes and full frontal nudity is available on cable 24/7; from their point of view, the Culture War has been a DISASTER. So from this, their conclusion was that things are probably "meant" to get worse (because, you know, the Rapture) and so what they should do as "Christians" is just drop out and wait for Jesus and live biblical lives apart from the modern Sodom that is the common culture. Those people are going to vote republican on election day, but they won't be going out to campaign; and if the Republican party became hard libertarian overnight they'd STILL vote Republican because at least the Republicans would leave them alone, while the Democrats will want to have social services steal their homeschooled children and force their teenage daughters to get pregnant and then have an abortion, or something.

The second camp are the "Emerging" Evangelicals, who looked at the whole situation and reached a different conclusion, but one no less troubling to the Political Theocrats. When they were teenagers they were all given "W.W.J.D." bracelets, and taught about loving Jesus and caring for people, and things like "love the sinner", and so on; all of these were campaigns pushed by the Religious Right. But the problem was, these crazy teens ACTUALLY BELIEVED THIS CRAP! Pat Robertson & co. never meant for these kids to actually start SERIOUSLY asking "what would Jesus do?", they were just making cheap political statements and using children as weapons like they always did; but here these damn Millennials with their naive idealism went and took it all seriously and -and I know, this is totally NUTS, right?- actually thought Christians should try to be like Jesus. Crazy, right??
But they really did. And when they got a little older they looked at their parents, and their parent's leaders, and the things they'd fought for, and while they didn't reject Jesus, they sure as heck rejected those leaders and those things their parents thought were so important. They couldn't understand, if you're supposed to ask what would Jesus do, why you'd spend all those years and millions of dollars in obsessing over fighting homosexuality, or pornography, or to force evolution in schools, or to fight to make big religious displays on city hall lawns or at high school football matches. Didn't Jesus say "go pray in a closet"? Jesus didn't spend his time stoning the prostitutes, he sat with them! He never actually said a single word about homosexuality.
And even if they don't necessarily disagree with all the fundamental moral issues that the Religious Right so cared about, they were still thinking that their parents' generation got their priorities totally messed up. They were so worried about Sin that they forgot about Love.
So while the parents of these evangelicals considered abortion and gay marriage to be the highest-priority issues for Christians in America, those two don't even fall on the radar for their kids, who consider poverty(!) to be the biggest priority.  Other high-end concerns include "inequality" and "the environment"!  These kids are still deeply christian, not doubting their faith at all, but completely disillusioned with the reactionary politics of the Religious Right. They're leaving the churches who push that brand of Sin-focused ideology in droves. They won't go out on campaign either, they're too busy volunteering at soup kitchens and aid missions.
So either way, with the new generation of Evangelicals, the Religious Right is DONE. Stick a pitchfork in it, its cooked.
And yes, young people are not all Libertarian, otherwise Colleges in America would look like bastions of intellectual freedom and not like a never-ending "1984"-cosplay. But I think that most Americans in general are fundamentally Libertarian on a PERSONAL level; they are Individualists. They believe in people having the right to do what they will, and dislike being told what to do by people who think they're better/more-educated/more-moral than them. There are of course people, young and old, who instead think they ARE those ones who 'know better', and they want to create a state where they get to impose their vision on the collective whether individuals in the collective like it or not. Those people, young or old, are the REAL ENEMY. And the American right-wing has been making fake-enemies out of people who it could have as allies for so long, that it threatens to cost the battle against that real enemy.


Currently Smoking: Moretti Rhodesian + Gawith's Squadron leader

Tuesday 17 February 2015

EveryJoe Tuesday: An Against-the-Grain Perspective on What the Republican Party Should Become

Today over at EveryJoe we look (in the final part of the series) at whether the Republican party really could move away from the Religious Right and have a hope of winning elections.

Because that's obviously the final argument for why we need to keep these theocratic authoritarian Collectivist fucks that stand for nothing that free-thinkers stand for: "oh, we need them! We can't possibly win elections without them, look how close the political divide is in this country, we need every vote we can get!!"

Look, asshole, what if the political divide is so close, almost 50-50 in this country, only BECAUSE the party that claims to believe in small-government and personal freedom is full of Religious Fascists?  Have you considered that, maybe, if the Republican party were to just be capable of breaking away from the loony-bin theocrats who have insinuated their way into the American Right, it has a golden opportunity to become the saner, broader, more tolerant party of absolutely everyone that doesn’t want a government to tell them how they have to live?

And I suspect that it would proceed to kick the ass of the social-engineer nanny-state looney bin fascists that are full of smug assholes who sneer while they talk about how they think they know what's best for you. 

As usual, comments are closed. Please click the link and go comment there; and please reshare the article! Thanks.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Quiete + Gawith's Balkan Flake

Monday 16 February 2015

RPGPundit Reviews: World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour

This is a review of "World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour", a setting book for Call of Cthulhu published by Cubicle 7, and written by a design team of various authors (who, according to the back cover, were "the award winning team behind Cthulhu Britannica and The Laundry RPG").

There must be something in the air... or maybe the stars are right? In any case, this is the second World War II Cthulhu product I've reviewed in the last year.  The other one being "Achtung Cthulhu", which was pretty great (though it didn't turn out to be quite as "pulpy" as the title made it seem). World War Cthulhu is another one of these, this one done by C7, and in this review we'll see just how good it is!

First, the physical structure of the book itself:  World War Cthulhu is a hardcover book, with a full-color (but very dark-toned) cover, showing some shadowy tentacles with a WWII fighter plane flying overhead (implying that the tentacle thing, which may or may not be Cthulhu, it's too dark to tell, is massive in size).  Not a bad cover but I think it could have been just a little bit less dark; as it is, the whole thing is just a bit too 'muddy' and obscure.

(NOTE: the actual physical cover has this image but several shades darker, so that the tentacle thing is practically impossible to see other than the 'eyes' and a couple of the tentacles)

 The book has interior black and white art that's fairly good, in the standard CoC style (lots of portrait drawings of NPCs, and action shots of tentacle-monsters).  The book is about 215 pages long.

So let's get right to it.  First of all, I want to repeat that this is a setting book; as such it requires the use of the CoC main rulebook to play.  Presumably, the latest edition of CoC, though in point of fact you could probably use any edition, as CoC's editions are all sufficiently similar as to be compatible with this book.

After a bit of introductory fiction (in the form of in-setting files/field reports), the book starts out with a description of the different British Intelligence agencies.  These include MI5 and MI6, naval intelligence, RAF Intelligence, the SOE, and a (made up) group called "Network N" that it is assumed your PCs will be working for.

The book provides all the steps for creating a character, the only part not included being the actual rolling conventions and the 'pre-war professions', which have to be referenced from the CoC main book.  For the most part, the process is fairly identical to standard CoC creation, with the following exceptions: you select a nationality background (which provides specific skill choices depending if you're from the U.K., a European exile (Polish, French, etc.), Australian/New-Zealander, or Canadian (or American, which use the same template as Americans)). You select or roll a personality type, which also gives bonuses. After choosing your pre-war career (and the skills related to it) you also choose a type of military service (adviser, agent, civilian operative, commando, diplomat, infantry, intelligence analyst, royal marine, mobile infantry, pilot or radio operator), any of which give you even more skills.  Then you choose or roll for an "initial mythos encounter" (which modifies your sanity and Cthulhu Mythos or Occult skill), a reason for joining "Network N", and initial additional training you received in Network N (which gives you even more skills, plus a chance to roll a special check that lets you very slightly reduce SAN loss on some mythos encounters).

All of this adds up to the creation of a character that is still a standard CoC character, but with considerably more skills than normal.  I don't know that this is necessarily a bad thing, it's presumed that these are very experienced field operatives, as opposed to New England academics who run into something horrible by accident.  Plus from a game perspective, WWII would have a host of dangers as a setting that peacetime New England in the 1920s would not.

There are a few new occupations to choose from besides the CoC ones: politician, scientist and spy.  There's also a few new skills for the WWII setting: Command, cryptography, demolitions, gunnery, military science, operate radio, survival, and tradecraft (which is a skill specifically about the 'craft' of spywork, things like shadowing, losing a tail, arranging info exchanges, surveillance, infiltration, etc.).   Some brief rules also explain how to update a 1920s era PC forward in time to the second world war, which is a useful tip if someone wants to use this book as a sequel campaign to one of their old CoC 1920s games.

The next 8 pages are dedicated to "intelligence operating procedures", which detail in essence what the PCs would know as the correct procedures (that they would have been trained in) for handling a variety of situations. It covers things like compartmentalization, communications, intelligence gathering, signals intelligence, debriefings, interrogation, recon, and movement of personnel and equipment, as well as "direct action" (i.e. killing someone). This is followed by a 5 page section on small unit tactics, describing weapons, use of position and cover, urban combat, snipers, etc.  Both of these sections are given without any system rules, but implicitly as an explanation as things PCs would know; thus no rules are mandating any of this but it is a given to player character assumptions.  I think that was the best possible way of handling it, as this was all information that needed saying, without needing to be ruled-on.

About 50 pages in, you get to the "Keeper's Handbook" section of the book.  It starts out with some guidelines for how to run the game; and here we get one significant difference from "Achtung Cthulhu".  In both books, it is very clear that a significant effort is made NOT to conflate the Nazis with the Mythos, so as not to end up explaining away Nazi atrocity or excuse it as actually having been caused by inhuman motivations; this is extremely important, to make it clear that the Nazis aren't evil because they're secretly led by the Great Old Ones, or because they were warped by things man was not meant to know, they were evil because they were human beings who chose human evil.  But in this, while Achtung Cthulhu chose to include elements of the Axis forces using Mythos stuff for their own purposes, World War Cthulhu seems to be choosing an even more conservative stance; it explicitly states that in this setting (although there could be lone madmen on either side dabbling in the mythos) "neither the Allies nor the Axis powers used magic or the Mythos in the war". This in stark contrast, again, to Achtung Cthulhu where you had the secret branch of the SS that was in fact getting involved in and using the Mythos.

Now, I'm not going to say one is a better choice than the other; first, both are GOOD choices in the sense that neither ends up going with the deeply crappy route of doing something that would end up excusing the Nazis overall, or denying the humanity of their evil.  I do think that Achtung Cthulhu made what might be a more popular choice: to surmise, in a world where the Mythos is real, that the Nazis (with their famous obsessions with occultism and doctrine about 'master races' and total ruthlessness to try to win) would have tried to make use of the mythos for their own pre-existing purposes.

And after all, World War Cthulhu is definitely wrong on at least one point, when they said that neither side of the war used magic, since in fact we know that in our real history BOTH sides used magick. The nazis made extensive used of the occult, and the allies tried to make use of the same to counter them; the most famous example perhaps being how Aleister Crowley was called in to advise British Intelligence, and came up with the idea of Churchill making use of the "V for Victory" mudra (a magical sign) as a magical symbol to cut off the power of the equally-occult Nazi salute and swastika. Whether you accept the efficacy of magick or not, both sides were making use of it.
But on the other hand, World War Cthulhu's take on things may, in being the less expected setting-choice, also be the bolder one.  It makes for a game where instead of getting a mash-up of a Mythos-enhanced War, you have a setting where there are two wars being fought: the second world war, and the supernatural war against the mythos.  This 'division of conflicts' can also have its value.  

Next up, we get a bit of speculation as to just who the mysterious "N" (the PC's boss) really is.  Instead of some enforced meta-plot, what the book cleverly does is provide a range of options, some 'good' and some with the by-now obligatory 'evil twist'; N can be a successful former occult-investigator, an agent of an international secret-society dedicated to fighting the Mythos, a lunatic, a magician, a mythos-sorcerer secretly out for power, a cultist, and of course (with a letter like "N", what do you want?) he could also secretly be Nyarlathotep himself!

After some guidelines for the types of 'mission plots' (both in terms of WWII missions and mythos-missions) you can run, and how to manage them, we get to the section on "Intelligence Theatres".  This is, so far, the most impressive section of the book.  Up until now, I had felt that World War Cthulhu and Achtung Cthulhu were basically equally good, but in this section I have to give the prize to World War Cthulhu.  The chapter details the situation in pretty much every European area of significance (even Monaco!), and in each region it has a few sample missions (each standard war-missions with a mythos-mission appended to it).  The ideas are good, the context is good, and the clarity of the information in this chapter is excellent. It covers just under 30 pages.

The next chapter is also fairly valuable, it covers what various of the major Mythos cults are doing during wartime.  The Black Pharoah Brotherhood, the Yellow Sign cult, the colours out of space (which are curiously described as being 'highly intelligent' and strategic in taking advantage of the war; which really isn't how I've ever considered them), the Cthonians, Cthulhu (asleep at this time), Cyaegha (which I wasn't familiar with until now), the Deep Ones (who are particularly concerned with the expansion of submarine warfare), Eihort and Glaaki (the local English menaces), Elder Things, the Ghouls (very active in Occupied Paris), The Great Race, Hastur, Ithaqua, Lliogor, the mi-go (who are involved in a war of their own, with the brotherhood of the Yellow Sign), the degenerate races of K'n-Yan and the Tcho-Tchos,  all of these are given at least a paragraph or two of information.

We also get brief descriptions/biographies of some of the important figures in Wartime London; including Claude Dansey, Denis Wheatley, Ian Fleming, Stewart Menzies, Kim Philby (the infamous soviet spy), John Masterman, Colin Gubbins, Baron Rothschild, Aleister Crowley (another reason to praise this book over Achtung Cthulhu, it actually includes Crowley, who was not just a real-world famous occultist but also connected to British Intelligence), JFC Fuller, Leo Marks, and "Mad" Jack Churchill.  There's also statblocks for some generic NPCs (intelligence agents, collaborators, soldiers, secret police, or partisans).

Then we get into GM procedures, specific to all kind of things that can come up in the WWII setting, and how to handle them within the BRP/CoC mechanics. Stuff like how to handle being stuck in the middle of a large battle, taking indirect fire, snipers, etc. How to handle sanity loss from battlefield conditions. Rules for obstacles that don't come up much in the 1920s but you're apt to find in WWII Europe, like barbed wire or minefields. Scuba diving and underwater combat, using radios, deciphering codes, doing parachute drops.  Plus aerial combat and naval battles too. Basically all the commando stuff. There are some really excellent rules for handling being in deep cover and how to calculate the chances of being discovered by the Nazis, including random situations that can threaten to expose you.

There follows a large and really excellent section on equipment, covering about 25 pages of the book.  It details currencies, costs, shortages, and black market items for many of the major countries in the European (and North African) theater of war. You also get long and detailed stats of all the major weapons used in the war, as well as vehicles.

Finally, we get to the campaign included in the book; "The God in the Woods".  It's definitely a full campaign, clocking in at 100 pages or so.  It features a sandbox-esque description of a village near the border zone between Occupied France and Vichy France, with very well-crafted descrption of areas of interest, events that can happen in said areas, personalities and groups active in the region.  Then you get a loosely-scheduled but carefully detailed list of potential events for the campaign, presented in a fairly open-ended semi-linear fashion, that begin with the PCs being introduced as intelligence agents in the region.  As with every other (shorter) mission detailed earlier in the book, the operation has both a conventional WWII goal (to set up assistance for the partisan movement there) and a Mythos goal (which starts out as trying to find or find out the fate of a personal contact of "N").

I have to say that "The God in the Woods" is excellent.  Call of Cthulhu has always been a game that's been blessed with great adventure material, and this is the latest addition to the roll call of truly spectacular ones.  I'm tremendously impressed, particularly in how it's been done in a way that is not just a hard-track railroad.
In the end, "The God in the Woods" puts World War Cthulhu far beyond the standard for a setting sourcebook, or a Call of Cthulhu sourcebook (including, I have to say, Achtung Cthulhu).

So, final thoughts:  both of the relatively recent releases of WWII sourcebooks are quite good; I mean, I gave Achtung an 8/10.  And they're compatible with each other, both have some material the other doesn't, both have a slightly different style. If you're a big Cthulhu fan and really want to run an awesome WWII campaign, you will probably won't both of these.  But if you could only pick one, I have no doubt which my choice would be: World War Cthulhu is a truly remarkable product.


Currently Smoking: Brigham Anniversary Pipe + Image Latakia