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Sunday 31 May 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: If You Don't Like What They Say About Dear Leader...

...Stop Drinking the Kool-aid.

Not everyone who goes onto the Forge will agree with or be representative of everything Ron Edwards said. I'm aware that a tiny few gave him some mild criticism for his "brain damaged" comments. Most Forge-ites did not.

In fact, what I've seen from most Forge-ites since then is "it's pointless to go and argue with Ron about something like that, because that is simply his position, so let's move on". Or "If you have a problem with it, go argue with him on the forge" followed quickly by "He won't argue about it with you".

So basically, The Forge-ites (which keep trying to claim they are NOT a cult, despite all clear evidence to the contrary) are themselves scared shitless of holding Edwards accountable, and are using the same rhetorical prestidigitation they have used with any and all criticism of GNS theory in order to draw away from these statements, right up to and including "if you're against what he said, it's because you don't understand it". Utter bullshit.

You're upset about how people treat RPG Theorists? Then FUCKING DISTANCE YOURSELF FROM RON EDWARDS. It's that fucking simple. And by "distance", I mean, soundly and utterly reject him and his every bankrupt idea. Because up till now every fucking thing that GNS has produced has been a massive failure, and Ron himself has been singlehandedly responsible for giving RPG Theorists in general a far worse name and reputation than they could otherwise possibly have. It's his fault.

So no, its not enough to "not explicitly agree" with his statements. Because you see, to you people, and in the perceptions of the rest of us, Ron is the fucking Pope of Forge-town. Now, if the fucking Pope stands up and says "All Buddhists are just spiritual narcissists engaging in mental masturbation" (which, indeed, the real Pope Rat has said), it's not enough for a catholic to simply "not explicitly agree" with that. If he doesn't want people to assume that he, as a Catholic, also believes this about Buddhists he must explicitly disagree very strongly indeed. Hell, he pretty well has to stop being a Catholic. Until he does, I'll have to assume that he either agrees with or at least condones the shit-headed statements of his leader.

The fact that you might just be a "Sunday catholic" doesn't really mean fuck all to the rest of us. You're still one of them. If you want to be Martin Luther and make a fresh start of the whole fucking thing, then that's well and good and then you'll be judged on your own merits.

But until then, for well or ill ALL Gaming Theory has come to be inextricably linked with GNS theory and Ron Edwards, in no small part because of the sloth, Swinery, and cowardice of the so-called theorists who are more interested in looking smart to the self-styled cognoscenti (getting the head patted by "Ron"), and making up total and abject bullshit to try to explain away why most people think they're stupid cocksuckers, rather than say, actually create a theory about RPGs that people actually really play.

JRients has set the bar now: Any theory that does not specifically center around D&D cannot call itself a really significant theory of RPGs. If you ignore the universal center of RPGs, your theory cannot be correct. Its like trying to do physics but ignoring gravity.

So go, be a man. Go and make a theory that actually works, that's actually productive in some sense; one that will produce successful RPGs or that would in some real, tangible way help D&D players have a better game, rather than explain why D&D players are ignorant fools who don't actually Roleplay right.
Fuck, make a theory that doesn't assume that of 90% of all gamers are secretly-miserable fools who don't understand what they like and need to be re-educated. That in and of itself would put you heads and tails above anything that Ron Edwards has come up with so far.


(Originally posted March 1st 2006)

Friday 29 May 2015

Dark Albion Slogans

So, I may have been working a bit too hard.  On a number of things, including working quite hard on the proofreading of the PDF for Dark Albion: The Rose War.  As it is, I lay down to bed for a small nap and ended up crashing for 10 hours.    Suddenly I get up and its late at night; then I head out to grab something to eat and almost kill myself avoiding a speeding car.  I may  have to take it a bit easier, but work lately has been eating me up.

Anyways, it seems likely that sometime withing the next months y'all will be able to get your grubby little paws on Dark Albion, and of course our minds turn to promotion.   We'll have to have a website, a G+ community, posting in various forums, sending review copies to those few key reviewers that actually have a proven track record of good reviews (ironically harder for me to do with one of my books than anyone else, since I'm about 50% of the population of "rpg reviewers with proven track records").  And of course, banner ads, like the kind you can get at theRPGsite.
Because if you write an RPG, and then fail to actively promote it, you're just an idiot.

All this got me thinking about slogans that we could make, to fit with Dark Albion.  And certainly, we'd be fools if we didn't trade off a bit on the connection between the War of the Roses (the inspiration for Dark Albion) and Game of Thrones (likewise inspired by the selfsame english war).

A few instantly came to mind:

Dark Albion: The Old-School 'Game of Thrones'

Dark Albion: All Your Favorite Characters Will Get Killed Off Here, Too

(Trust me, your players will miss Warwick the Kingmaker; luckily, Richard Crookback is right around the corner to take his place as Machiavellian Sonofabitch of the Kingdom)

Dark Albion: Martin, by way of Shakespeare

Dark Albion: Kill a Mad King, Come to Power, Get Fat and Alcoholic

Dark Albion: There's This Exiled Kid of Royal Blood, and Dragons are Involved

(the game of thrones version is admittedly hotter, but Henry Tudor was not without his charms)

Dark Albion: We Have At Least Two Different Assholes Exactly Like This Guy:

Dark Albion: Lancasters Always Pay Their Debts, Too

Dark Albion: We Even Have the Original Version of This Insufferable Little Shit:
("This boy, though only 13 years of age, already talks of nothing but of cutting off heads or making war, as if he had everything in his hands or was the god of battle or the peaceful occupant of that throne." - that's not a line from Game of Thrones about Joffrey, its a quote from an ambassador about Prince Edward of Lancaster, who ordered two knights decapitated when he was 8 years old because he wanted to see their heads on pikes)

Dark Albion: The Rose War; "Game of Thrones", Original Edition.

(wait! Does this mean Tyrion will turn out to be the bad guy? Or that Richard III was really a good guy? Or neither??  Richard is at least as much Stannis Baratheon as he is Tyrion, and with more than a bit of Littlefinger thrown in for good measure)

If you want more, check this out:

Let me know if you can think of any other possible slogans for Dark Albion: The Rose War!


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

Thursday 28 May 2015

DCC Campaign Update: Genocide, the Easy Way

So in this week's adventure, we found:

-Night the Elf trying to bond to a second patron, having gotten sick of the King of Elfland's Senile crap.

-by sheer random chance, coming up with the king of Elfland again when rolling for a random patron (5% chance).

-the local village blacksmith showing a lack of metallurgy knowledge by failing to identify electrum, deciding it was a brand new metal, and calling it "Smithium", in his own honor.

-said blacksmith trying to subtly generate a market for his new metal by creating and showing off Smithium jewelry.

-Schul the rogue discovering an Azure Wizard secretly engaging in (forbidden) service to the Lord of All Flesh.

-the village smith correctly identifying the Cyborg-Redneck's new lower body as a Titanium/Dolomite composite, in spite of his inability to recognize electrum.

-the smith's second line of jewelry, of mixed 'smithium' and platinum, or as he calls it, "Smithplium".
-the shocking abduction of Night by what appear to be dwarven ninjas riding a cyborg dragon.

(dwarf ninjas, yes)

-that Feld, Son of Feldstein, the dwarf who had absconded with the huge treasure-hoard the PCs had stolen from Tiamat's corpse, has returned. And he has a band of half-cybernetic dwarven-ninja followers and Cyber-Dragon allies.  When he goes to take back the lost Dwarven Machineholds he's going to do it the smart way!  Unfortunately, he has to kill the new Dragon King, Marduk, first because Marduk wants him, and (as it turns out the PCs) dead for having slain Tiamat.

-Night being held captive along with the ex-Azure-Wizard turned Lord of Flesh cultist.

-Feld making the mistake of undoing the wizard's gag, allowing him to call on the lord of flesh for "Sexy time".

-the rest of the PCs heading north in search of something to kill and loot.

-said PCs running into Giant Weasels; but it was they who ripped the weasel's flesh.

(substitute Han Solo for Quillian the rogue, and you get the idea)

-Night recovering from her degenerate stupor to find herself in a princess-leia/jabba situation with the Leader-Cyberdragon; and learning from him that they are on one of the great floating islands far above the earth, in the Cyberdragon HQ known as "Aerie 51".

-Night learning that the Dragons plan to attack the damaged Silver Dome while the Smug Elves are still recovering from the attack of the NecroTreant, steal the Dome's Powersphere and use it to blow Marduk to smithereens.  They Cyberdragons are in revolt against Marduk because they will have no leader (except the Cyberdragon leader, of course, but the Cyberdragon-leader assures her "that's different").

-that also, the Cyberdragons use their cybernetics to communicate in a semi-hivemind, or as they put it "we are legion, united by our superior Social Media!".  To which the dwarves simply reply "and we are dwarves".
-the rest of the PCs, down below, spotting one of the Cyberdragon scouts, which takes an interest in the Cyber-Redneck's clearly Smug-elven cybernetics.

-that when said scout kidnaps the Cyber-Redneck, the rest of the PCs try to hop on and "ride the dragon".

-that unfortunately, while the two Rogues have no trouble jumping on, Ack'Basha the Cleric falls flat on his face; and Sandy the Bikini-Chainmail Barbarian gets knocked off the first time the dragon swerves.

-the Cleric managing to use Divine Aid effectively to teleport into Aerie 51 at the same time as the Cyber-dragon scout does.

-Night causing the worst game of 'broken telephone' ever, when she sends a vague message that leads both sides to mistakenly believe that Bill the Elf (rather than the much less menacing Night the Elf) is in the Aerie.  Both sides hate Bill and assume he's aiding the other side.

-the matter clearing up, however, just as Night invokes the King of Elfland to teleport her away before suffering the wrath of the Cyberdragons, cybernetic ninja-dwarves, and her fellow PCs.

-the rest of the PCs trying to negotiate with Feld, based on their collective hatred of Bill the Elf.

-the Cyber-Redneck finding out that his cybernetics come with a mind-control chip-implant that could potentially turn him into a mindless drone of the Smug Elves.

-Schul and Quillian, the two rogues, happily accepting the Cyber-dragon's offer of being given free "totally awesome" cyber-implants themselves, in spite of only just hearing just how easily the whole thing could, and almost certainly is, a trick to make them drones.

-that most of Feld's dwarves had taken up the offer already, leading the the other PCs to realize that the Cyber-dragons are just using Feld.

-that unfortunately for Night, the King of Elfland appears to have screwed up as usual, and set her several hundred years into the past, when the Azure Tower is just being built.

-that the future paranoia of the Azure Order about not sharing their spells and items with anyone outside their group may have inadvertently been caused by Night's ill-chosen words.

-Night giving the early Azure-Wizards a simple message to send to Tiamat, and thus accidentally changing the entire timeline as Tiamat ends up wiping out every last Cyber-dragon in reaction to this message.  Night's player gets 4xp for easily-accomplished genocide; and most of what the PCs just went through in this session didn't actually ever happen now.

-Night gets back to the present, and the PCs find themselves back in the village, all with vague memories about what had been happening (and then ended up never happening at all).  Meanwhile Night has lost her armor, her Wizard Staff, and most of her items as a result of her shenanigans, as they are lost somewhere in the temporal paradox.  She also used massive spellburn to get through it all, and only now does the King of Elfland tell her that she cannot regain any of her spellburned attributes until she obtains for him a Violet Lotus Shrubbery.  Welcome to massive attribute penalties, Night.

-Ack'Basha the Cleric is particularly peeved at the sudden change of timeline; as he had been just on the verge of hammering out a PC-Cyberdragon-DwarfNinja alliance that would have them all work together to slay Marduk and then go after Sezrekan (his one burning obsession lately); only to have Timey-Wimey shit ruin it all for him.

(the King of Elfland is a little bit like Doctor Who, if Time Lords got Alzheimer's)

-Night reasoning that, at least, surely her temporal intervention has made things better in the present; but the King of Elfland assures her that no, in fact she made things "much worse", though he doesn't explain how.

-the PCs willing to forgive Night and help her in her quest for the Shrubbery, and realizing that the violet lotus is a highly hallucinogenic substance (which may, in fact, explain a lot about the King of Elfland), perhaps such a shrubbery might be found in the city of Highbay.  So off they go en route to visit the "City of Junkies".

-the line "When we get to Highbay, we'll ALL be 'riding the dragon'!".

-the PCs, en route through the Tangled Wood toward the coast, discovering that apparently Smithplium Jewelry is catching on; with forest creatures refusing to believe the PCs that it's just electrum, and claiming that something called "the Fashion Bear" has endorsed it.

(this was the first image that came up when I googled "fashion bear"; I was thinking more along the lines of an actual bear, but now I might just have to make this guy into an NPC for this campaign)

-the gang being accosted in the deeper part of the forest by a pair of shady-looking Mobster-Unicorns, who demand magic items in exchange for being allowed to pass through "their" forest unmolested.

-Night starting a fight, wherein the unicorns subject the PCs to blasts of "Rainbow Power, Bitch!", not to mention being viciously horn-gored; but a well-placed Force Ball injures and then Schul the Rogue's dagger kills one Unicorn and the other teleports away.

-that this was not the end of it, however, as the surviving unicorn comes back to avenge his brother, accompanied by his friend, a Kung-Fu trained Wuxia Cow named "Hooves of Steel".

-the Cyber-Redneck being viciously hoof-beaten to death by a wuxia cow, and Schul the Rogue being nearly killed via Unicorn-horn-based violence; before Sandy the Barbarian (annoyed at her sleep being interrupted two nights in a row) murders the Unicorn by throwing her mace at it, and the kung-fu cow by throwing her dining fork at it.

That's it for today.  Next session, the trip to Highbay will no doubt continue, probably accompanied by more eccentric forest-creature violence.


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

Wednesday 27 May 2015

RPGPundit's Advice for RPG-Designers Being Targeted by Pseudo-Activists

I'm not going to say who it was, for obvious reasons, but someone recently wrote to me privately, about how there were some of the Usual Suspects (in this case on RPGnet, but it could really have been anywhere) attacking his rpg-writing.  This particular designer had never had this happen to him before now, and he was quite concerned and didn't know how to deal with it.  They were attacking his present work, looking at old posts to find things he might have said years ago to use against him, whipping up the mob into a frenzy, etc.; all the usual tactics.  So, I thought I'd share here what I wrote to him, since other people might also benefit from it someday.
Names have been withheld, but the rest of this posted for general benefit.  You never know when YOU might be the next one targeted, because increasingly, there's no real criteria as to who get's chosen as the Pseudo-activists' next victim.

Without further ado:

Ok, first: don't apologize for anything, don't try to hide anything. Don't delete things you said in the past.  If you honestly don't believe in it any more, say so, but don't hide it.  If you do believe in it, be shameless about it.  They're going to go for the throat anyways, NOTHING will make them stop, so don't think you can try to make some kind of compromise with them.  If you show any weakness, they just get more rabid.

Second, why are you engaging them on their own territory where they have all the advantage? They get to say things you don't, they can paint you as the unreasonable one, and if you get mad they'll paint you as 'erratic', and then when they think its the right moment, they'll ban you.  
You're already banned there, it just hasn't finished happening yet. 

Find better places to promote your product.  The rpgnet ruling clique has decided your game is evil, that's it.  You're dead there.  You should go promote it where you are likely to actually find an audience, in other forums, and on G+ or Facebook.

The best way to beat them is to be blatant about how they mean nothing to you, and to succeed in spite of them.  Whenever you do that, it weakens them.  When you take them seriously, or try to reason with them, it only makes them stronger.

One more thing: in my experience, in the long run, there's no such thing as 'bad press'.  Some of it can limit your options in the future, but usually only if you're very clearly a controversy-hound (along the lines of James Desborough). If you are professional about it, getting slammed by a gang of assholes just makes people pay attention to you.  You'll be crying all the way to the bank, if you work this right.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Poker + Gawith's Virginia Flake

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Pictures From Uruguay: Part V

Today it's the Food-Envy edition of "pictures from Uruguay".  Namely this:

That's a picture through the window of a local bakery.  It isn't a special bakery, its just one I walked by.  There's an local bakery like this pretty much every couple of blocks.

I have like four to choose from just within a two block radius of my house.  They have freshly-baked bread, sometimes still warm (if you get there at just the right time), sandwiches, and the above, which around here are called "masitas".

That's a shot from the inside, as they were kind enough to allow me to take a picture.  There's a wide variety of pastries of different kinds, small and cookie-like, salty, with fruit or jelly, and of course a huge variety with dulce de leche, which was pretty much invented here.  They're fairly similar to what you'd find in France (I can say that from experience) or Spain (from what I've heard).  They're nothing like the overpriced health-food hipster-product trendy bakery bullshit you find in North America.

And it's fucking cheap.  A loaf of fresh-baked bread costs about sixty cents.  A sandwich is about two bucks.  Empanadas (that's a savory pastry filled with meat, or cheese and ham, or cheese and olives, or other stuff) are about a buck-fifty each.  Those round pastries with chocolate and jelly on top and dulce-de-leche filling cost a dollar.  And the smaller masitas cost about eight to ten dollars a fucking kilo, and of course you can pick and choose any combination of them you like.

I'll just leave you salivating with that today...


Currently Smoking: Savinelli full-bent + Gawith's Virginia Flake

Monday 25 May 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: RPGPundit's Unbearable Lexicon Rule

Inspired by Borgstrom, yet again:

RPGPundit's Unbearable Lexicon Rule:
If an RPG contains a lexicon, glossary, or dictionary of system terms that even experienced roleplayers actually have to read to have any idea what the rules are about (i.e. not just a dictionary of common gaming terms for roleplaying novices), then that game is almost certainly an unplayable pile of shit.

There you have it. Its OK if you add one or two new terms, reflecting new mechanics or stats that are specific to your game; but if you have renamed every normal mechanic into something unrecognizable just for shits and giggles, or have added so many new mechanics that an experienced gamer won't have a fucking clue what you're talking about on any given page without referring to your in-game dictionary, you've fucked up, laddie-buck.


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

(Originally posted February 20th, 2006)

Sunday 24 May 2015

Traveller Campaign Update: Energy Being Edition

The PCs started this adventure finding themselves in an entirely different universe.  Which they promptly got stuck in.  They found it contained a number of what appeared to be experimental terraformed micro-societies.  And of course, the first actual intelligent creature they ran into was this:

Yup, a star-trek style energy being.  It wanted them to call him God (but then, why would God need a starship?).  The PCs immediately named him "Bob" instead; lucky for them this particular energy being liked the name; never mind that it wasn't actually one of those omnipotent energy-beings so much as a totally lame-ass energy being who actually couldn't do anything to them at all.

He did provide them with some very useful information: namely that the founder/greatest-leader of the Ancients is probably still alive, and in this alternate universe.  That he's named Grandfather Paradox, and that he's been hiding here ever since the Final War, when he was betrayed by the other members of his High Council, including "The Master".

(remember him? From our last entry?)

Thing is though, Bob seems to think Grandfather Paradox is just as big an asshole, and actually wants to try to convince them to help him kill Grandpa; through a convoluted plan involving the PCs breeding with the local augmented human population (who are enormously intelligent but have had all the ambition genetically modified out of them) to produce a race of super-warriors.  The PCs humor him, mostly to find out what they can about these humans.

They go visit them next, after a few random stops with the teleporter they're using, and find out that the humans here are pretty much like Bob said, and they're pretty much obsessively "neutral":

("Tell my wife Hello")

They were starting to get somewhere with them, when they find out that by leaving the teleporter on they accidentally provided a back door to the humans' biggest enemy (who had wiped out the entire population at least once before, though Grandfather Paradox just re-made them from his clone banks): a tribe of ultra-intelligent hyper aggressive proto-Vargr:

(so on one side, the Neutrals; on the other side, these guys!)

The PCs try to get back to their ship, only to find out the teleporter won't take them back there.  The only way to get back to their Millenium Falcon would be to go through a place called the Death Zone, to a place called the Tower, where the AI that replaced Bob acts as Grandfather Paradox's overseer.

(with a name like the Death Zone, you can't really expect it to be a pleasant sort of place)

For the moment, and at great personal risk to life and limb, the PCs managed to stop the ingress of the Proto-Vargr into the Neutrals' territory by blowing the shit out of the teleporter ziggurat in neutral territory. But there's still thousands of Vargr around; so now the half the PCs have to see if they can whip the Neutrals into fighting shape while the other half try to get through the Death Zone and hopefully to find some answers.


Currently Smoking: Mastro de Paja bent billiard + Gawith's Virginia Flake

Saturday 23 May 2015

Real Magical Debates in RPG-Fandom: Asatru and "Folkish" Concepts of Paganism

Yeah, this is NOT a "real magick in RPGs" post, just so we're clear.  This is an actual debate related to one section of the pagan community, that came up recently on G+ with another noted gaming blogger.

He posted this blog entry, which probably won't make sense to anyone who isn't fairly up-to-speed with the pagan community in North America and its larger issues. Not just the pagan community, but specifically the Norse Pagans (usually referred to as "Asatru"), who tend to keep themselves fairly distinct from the (often flakier) mainstream Wiccan and "eclectic" pagans.  The Asatru could be said to in some ways predate Wicca, in the sense that there were germanic-pagan revival movements going on since the late 19th century whereas Wicca was only invented around 1950 (though in its modern form Asatru came along after, around 1970).   And obviously, you had the problem that some of those earlier forms were tied into german-supremacist movements (out of which spawned many of the ideas of the Nazi party), and that to this day there's significant groups of people who claim to be Asatru or Norse/Germanic Pagans that are also neo-nazis.

Of course, the majority of Asatru are NOT neo-nazis, and have to constantly face those issues (even from other neo-pagans) and some go out of their way to condemn racism in all its forms specifically because of that troublesome association and unwanted connection to certain disgusting elements.

There were some details in the blog entry above that confused me a bit, so I asked the blogger in question to clarify a bit more on his stance in particular, since he seemed to be both against the magazine article he felt was defamatory AND the reaction from the "Heathens United Against Racism" organization.  So he referred me to this article and this article to seek to clarify his stance.

You see, there are a couple of different major schools of thought in the (non neo-nazi) mainstream of Asatru:  for the majority, the "universalists", worshiping the Norse Gods need not have anything at all to do with anything resembling your racial background.  It is a religious faith, like most other religious faiths, where what really matters is that you feel a connection with Odin, Thor and company, regardless of whether you came from Scandinavia, Germany, or from Shanghai. But a non-insignificant minority are "folkish" Asatru, who espouse a belief that either genetics or "ancestry" (where you came from, who the 'gods of your ancestors' were) is a crucial part of the religion; whether or not this is utterly exclusive (i.e. no non-aryans allowed) or just seen as very important (i.e. it 'makes more sense' that you check out the old religions of your own ancestors) varies from group to group.

In the latter two articles above, the blogger in question goes to great lengths to state that his own position (as a "folkish" heathen) is that it is ancestry that matters and not genetics, that in his point of view this is radically different from racism (especially what he calls the "19th century pseudo-scientific notions of race"), and that he in no way feels that his own ancestry is superior to anyone else's, just that people should follow the folk religions of their own ancestors; and he also argues from the point of view that followers of other folk-religions like Yoruba or Native American religion are allowed to be concerned about cultural appropriation and to have groups/gatherings/churches that put ancestral conditions on participation, so it should likewise be allowed for Asatru.

So all that said, here's my response:

In the first place, I agree that racism should be defined by 'prejudice' not by 'power', but there is also more than one level of racism.  There is the race-hatred kind of racism, that sees one race (almost always one's own, by sheer coincidence I'm sure) as "superior" and others as "inferior".  But there is also the racism that is a 'fear of the other'; the mentality of not having any problem with people of other races, feeling like they are equal even, but just not thinking that one should mix with them (in the sense of mingling, and for that matter in the sense of inter-racial relationship); the whole "I have no problem with Swedes but I wouldn't want one to buy the house next to me, go to my church, or marry my son".

In my experience, most Asatru are very unfairly painted as racist, when they are not. But most "volkish" asatru (as opposed to the regular variety) I've met have expressed one of those levels: a tiny minority (I imagine it would be a larger amount if I knew a lot of people in prisons) who are that kind of overt KKK-style racist, a small minority who are the same once you scratch the surface of their 'volkish' ideas, a larger group who are not that race-hate based racist but who are the non-mixing kind of racist, and a vast majority who (if not any of the former to any extreme) are at the very least both aggressively anti-christian and often anti-semitic as well.

I don't think you should be maligned for the likes of Varg Vikernes and his ilk any more than Christians should be maligned for the Christian Identity movement (or Thelema should be maligned for tons of really bad heavy metal music).  But none of the above stops me from being critical of these.

You say that you're not talking about silly 19th century ideas about race, but about ancestry, and yet (from a historian's standpoint) the Volkish movements absolutely did start from those 19th century ideas.  I'm not saying you aren't being honest about your position, but I am saying that if you remove the race-theory 19th century ideas that fed the early Volkish movement and try to base it on "ancestry" rather than some flawed genetic theory, you get into some very muddy waters.

My own ancestry is one-half Polish, one half Hispanic.  On the Polish side of the family I come from an aristocratic family and can trace our genealogy back to the 13th century.  I know that it's very likely that my family was Catholic for the last 1000 years at the very least.  On my mother's side, based on what part of Spain they came from, it's quite possible that my family ancestry was Catholic (or at least some variety of Christian) for at least 1500 years (although of course, some of my ancestors from Spain might have been Muslims for a time; and its possible that I might have some ancestry somewhere in either line from the sizable Jewish populations that were present in Poland and Spain alike for quite some time, though I have nothing that directly points to that).

So you're arguing, however, that I should ignore that last 1000-1500 years of "ancestry", reject the last several dozen generations of my ancestors' faith, to adopt a recreation of a specific earlier period of ancestry?  Why?
I mean, you might argue "well, before your ancestors were Christian they were pagans for like 20000 years!"... ok, but what kind of pagan?  I mean, my mother's side would have worshiped the Roman gods for a while. Before that the Slavic gods or the old Iberian gods.  So which to chose?
And this presumes that ancient religions are fairly static, and ignores migratory patterns, and all kinds of other things.  Even if it made sense to ignore the last thousand years of 'ancestry', the rest of most our ancestry is a total jumble.  You could claim your ancestors worshiped Thor for several hundred years, except he wouldn't even have been called that the whole time, and the way he was worshiped would have changed significantly even between 1a.d. and 1000a.d.
Thanks to historical and archaeological research, we now know that in fact ancient tribal religions, contrary to our assumptions, tend to change radically fairly frequently, in response to various factors.  So to suggest that there was one single religion your ancestors practiced since time immemorial, before becoming christians for about 1000 years, is extremely dubious even if all your ancestry goes back to one single cultural group with little to no migration.

So I'm not sure what "ancestral" form of worship you are appealing to here. Or, of course, why that would be more valid than Christianity if the choice was a question of ancestral precedent rather than actual religious epiphany, except if we again get into that idea of some kind of "Foreign impurity", that Christianity is a "Jewish invention that weakens the virile European male" or something like that (which kind of ignores that those European males who adopted Christianity pretty much kicked the living fuck out of those European males who didn't, for most of recent history).

But most importantly, I don't get why I shouldn't be a Buddhist.  Or why it would be better to study the Runes (which I have, for 20 years now) than the I Ching (which I also have, for 20 years now). And especially, why I shouldn't reject my "ancestral religion" of Catholicism, which I don't feel I belong in at all.  And if it was OK for me to reject Catholicism in spite of it being the religion of my father, grand-fathers, great-grandfathers and great-great-great-great-great-grandfathers, it would follow that I should embrace a historical re-enactment of something vaguely resembling the faith some great-to-the-twentieth-power-grandfather might have maybe practiced two thousand years ago?

I'm not trying to condemn your faith here, but I am asking you to examine, and to feel free to respond with your argument for, what you consider the arguments for those certain principles of your faith.  Do you NEED your worship of Odin to be because of 'ancestry'?  If there was no such thing as "ancestry", if it turned out that tomorrow you find some old letters from your grandma in your attic that prove that your entire family is actually Jewish and your dad's side had been Thai Buddhist, would you still follow Odin?


Anyways, that's it for today.  I put this here mostly because I needed some venue in which to put it.


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

Friday 22 May 2015

On the Third Generation of OSR Products

There's been some talk on the OSR blogosphere lately about the question of just what is really valuable in the OSR, setting or rules, and about what the OSR is producing or may produce (or should be producing) in the future.   That is to say, where shall the innovation be?

Tenkar (of Tenkar's Tavern) came out saying that he thinks the future of the game should be more products like Spears of the Dawn or Arrows of Indra, complete games where the innovation is the setting and "less reworks of greyhawk or the forgotten realms".   While Rob Conley (who I'll note provided the excellent maps for Arrows of Indra) admitted that these are not really his cup of tea, and that his " preference is for bog standard fantasy world but with depth" (giving Harnworld or Ars Magica as examples).

The Greyhawk Grognard has pointed out that he thinks there were two phases in the OSR, the first being retro-clones and the second going off in "new directions". 

All of them made mention of this question of "where is the OSR's Tekumel?", and the impetus for this seems to have been the new White Star game.

I'd argue that in fact there are now three phases in the OSR.

The first was the retro-clones.  This was to me by far the least interesting part of the OSR, though some argued a necessary part, and they are pretty much finished now (since we've cloned just about everything that could be cloned and a few things that maybe shouldn't have been, to the point that we're left picking through Dave Arneson's discarded grocery bills in search of mythical clues to some kind of lost UR-D&D).

The second phase is still going on, which is the largely rules-fronted OSR games: those games that are not retroclones but whose innovation and creativity is largely focused on rule-modifications of the standard D&D concept.  These are games like ACKS, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or Fantastic Heroes & Witchery.
These could still go strong for a good long while, because there's way more room for creative maneuvering than with the retro-clones or even the almost-clones like Adventures Dark and Deep, as good as that is.

But now what we're just starting to see is Phase III:  which is the products that are all about focusing on an old-school setting that obliges a new way of playing D&D; these will have rules that are different from the standard but what makes them shine is not the rules-difference but the setting-difference.  I'm proud to say that Arrows of Indra is one of them (as is the aforementioned Spears of the Dawn), but I also think these are in some ways just the baby-steps (or easy pickings) of what will eventually become a huge new source of creative wealth for the OSR.

These types of OSR-games are exactly the kind I'm interested in making.  Aside from AoI, within a month or two we'll see the release of Dark Albion: The Rose war.  What will make it interesting and different from the two examples above is that AoI and Spears both got their inspiration from looking at D&D from the point of view of a cultural difference in setting; whereas Dark Albion is going to be, to slightly alter Conley's demands, "European Fantasy with depth".  It will be D&D done for deep-historical gritty European fantasy, which will be closer in some ways to stuff like Ars Magica, Harn, or Pendragon than anything we've seen for the OSR thus far. Indeed, while it will be instantly familiar (and particularly appealing, I think, to any Game of Thrones fan) its 280-or-so pages of historical-fantasy detail will unlike any D&D setting I've ever seen.

The days where people could get away with the "10' x 10' room with 2 giant rats and exactly 2000cp" rut that the JMal-branch of the OSR nearly got stuck in is over.  What's coming up now will defy anyone to think that there's a lack of creativity in the OSR, as if the second-phase products hadn't made that claim provably absurd already.


Currently Smoking:  Ashton Old Church Rhodesian + C&D's Crowley's Best

Thursday 21 May 2015

Arrows of Indra: The Western Lands

The setting of Arrows of Indra, the Bharata Kingdoms, is probably one of the most awesome features of the game.  And of course, it comes directly out of the "Epic India" mythology found in the Mahabharata.  As I said before, I considered at one point making a less-direct "Indian-esque" setting, but then quickly realized that no setting I concocted myself would be able to be as cool as the setting of the actual epics.

In the book, you get a 15-page chapter on the lands of the setting, and that's not counting the underworld, encounter tables, or various other details you find in other sections.  Even so, this leaves a lot of room for a GM to maneuver, since the areas covered are quite large.  Perhaps someday, I'll do more detailed regional setting books or something like that, but at the same time, the book as written provides you with a wealth of overall background info without stifling your own space for creativity, letting you put in the details you want in terms of cultural flavor.

Being fairly large, the civilized areas of the Bharata Kingdoms can be divided into western, central, eastern, and southern kingdoms (the north is pure mountains).  So in today's entry, I'm going to give you a very quick rundown of the western area of the civilized region, with the idea that at some point I'll give you details on the other areas.

The western Bharata Kingdoms are both the oldest and also the most 'rustic' of the civilized lands.  They were the first area of settlement of the Bharata people, but because of that they maintain a somewhat more backward attitude and do not have all the complex formalities that you see in some of the other lands.  This makes them great adventuring territory; they're pretty much the original "wild west".

Here's some quick notes on the Kingdoms found there:

The Bahlika kingdom:
-only nominally a kingdom, really a collection of tribes and city-states that run like a very loose 'republic'.  The various chiefs meet periodically in great gatherings called 'loya jirga', where they vote on matters that concern them all.
-this region is particularly prized for two products: Saffron and Horses.  Both are considered the finest of their kind in the known world, and merchants who manage to get through the sometimes challenging region (banditry is quite common) and return to the more central kingdoms with either stand to make a fortune.
-Although men are the rulers of the kingdom (like everywhere else in the Bharata lands), the Bahlika kingdom culture is matrilineal; your family name and inheritance is determined by who your mother is, not who your father is.  Polygamy is common here like everywhere else in the setting, but here it is not only men who can have many wives; women of influence can have many husbands also.
-Bahlika women are considered by people of other lands to be of 'loose morals'; they have much more freedom than women in other kingdoms do.  Bahlika women could even be a good source for female PCs.
-the Bahlika people frequently engage in banditry against each other, and especially against foreigners.
-the Bahlika kingdom is a vassal region to the Madra kingdom, but are generally left alone to determine their own business.
-the Vanga Parvat mountain range is found here, and there are rumours of lost cities in the mountains, and myriad entrances to the Patala Underworld.

The Madra Kingdom:
-in the foothills of the Himayant mountains, the climate here is generally cold, and the natives tend to wear more clothes than people in any other civilized land.   It's so cold that there's no elephants.
-This kingdom is currently ruled by Shalya, a formidable warrior and archer.
(there's a Mahabharata tv series in India right now, which is kind of their answer to Game of Thrones: this is what Shalya looks like in the show)
-everyone here drinks alcohol, and even eats beef, which seems outrageous to foreigners.
-Madra women are stunningly beautiful, so much so that instead of paying a dowry, fathers get to demand a bride-price when a suitor seeks to marry their daughters.
-there's no taboo here against pre-marital sex either, and a herb can be found here which aborts unwanted pregnancies. It's the sort of thing that, if smuggled back to some other kingdom, could be worth a lot of money to the right family in a serious bind.
-the capital, Sakala, has massive fortifications.  Wisely so, since in the mountains that border the kingdom there's a nation of hostile nagas, and another of blood-drinking demons.  The naga kingdom city is said to be built on top of a massive treasure hoard that the avatara Shiva collected on his adventures.

The Gandara Kingdom:
-the farthest western edge of the Bharata Kingdoms, it has the earliest Bharata cities. The natives claim to be half-gandharvas but no one else believes them.
-only the oldest gods are worshiped here.
-the Gandarans bury their dead in necropolises instead of cremating them.
-in and around the mountainous kingdom there's an entire Naga city, demons, giants, and vicious tribes of barbarian horsemen.
-the King of Gandara is Shakuni, who's entire family was murdered by the Kuru King Dhirtarashtra (except for his sister who was forced to marry him) when he was but a boy. Shakuni has been plotting revenge ever since, by fomenting the rivalry between the two lines that claim the Kuru throne.
(he looks like the manipulating type, don't he?)
In the Mahabharata, it is Shakuni's scheming that eventually causes the apocalyptic war between these two lines of princes.

Anyways, that's it for today; just a little glimpse of the sort of places you can adventure in and the flavor of the world of Arrows of Indra.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Poker + H&H Beverwyck

Wednesday 20 May 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: RPG Prep Time Advice

In general, "more preparation" does not equal better. It takes a spectacular combination of GM personality and GM competence matched with particular expertise, matched with the absolute perfect group of players, in order to make a "high preparation" game worthwhile; or indeed a very particular kind of campaign to make "high prep" necessary.

The Pundit's advice to GMs is this: Prepare for your adventure only the absolute minimum that is necessary.

The more you "prep" the adventure, the more the chance that you will end up railroading or falling into the masturbatory hideousness that is storytelling. The "minimum that is necessary", however, will vary depending on which game you are running and what kind of campaign you are running with each game.

Still, "prep better", not "prep more". And what you ought to prep is the situation, the premise for the adventure, with something that outlines the basic things you really need to have happen in that adventure (which is why the Roman game is so high-prep, there are so many things that have to "happen" in each adventure), and keep the rest totally open. Its not your job to fill in the blanks, that's the players job, and they must do it however they want to.

If you're doing too much more work than your players, then chances are that you're not giving your players room to shine.


(Originally published: February 4th 2006)

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Everyjoe Tuesday: Sex-Robot Edition

So, in my new article at, I ask the important question:  Will Robots (possibly sex-robots) steal your jobs?

The answer is YES.

However, it could be the key to a paradise of universal income and libertarian self-determination.  That is, if we can avoid having Marxist Bureaucrats and Corporate Monopolists fuck it up for us all.

Go check out the article: spread it around, share it, tweet it, go comment!


Currently Smoking: Winslow Crown Cutty + C&D's Crowley's Best

Monday 18 May 2015

Real (Gonzo) Alignments for Dungeon Crawl Classics

Or at least, real alignments for how my own "Last Sun" DCC campaign works.

I've come to realize that awesome as the Law-Neutral-Chaos mix goes, its not really complete.  There IS very clearly another axis of alignment at play in my campaign.  But it's not Good-Neutral-Evil; that just doesn't make a lot of sense in the context of how the world works.

No.  Here is the real alignment axis:

Law/Neutral/Chaos: you already know these.

Do-Gooder: Potentially also called "boy scout", "whitebread", "sucker" or "Mormon".  The wholesome types that actually believe in trying to save the ruined world.  The guys who will stand up to evil because of a set of principles, without there needing to be anything else in it for them.  Almost certainly doomed to get eaten by something horrible.

Freak: Potentially also called "weirdo", "maniac", or "hopped up on goofballs".  They'd be called 'lunatics' if anyone in the world of the Last Sun knew what a moon was.  These guys believe in something, but it sure as hell isn't principles.  They want whatever thing they want, whether it's to serve great cthulhu, get high, have interesting conversations, collect hats, reconquer the lost dwarven homeland, punk rock, or eat people's delicious spleens.  They don't really care about either saving the world or saving themselves, only about their own particular obsessions.  Almost certainly doomed to get eaten by something horrible.

Asshole: Potentially also called "dick", or "Bill the Elf". There are more of these guys than anyone else in the world of the Last Sun, which pretty much explains why things have gotten as bad as they have.  These are the people who are in it for the money, the power, and the women (or men, or attractive entities of indeterminate gender, or sex-robots, or whatever).  Some of them want to conquer entire dimensions, some want to see the world burn, a few of them just want to get to make other people miserable, and most of them just want to stay alive long enough to get to their next drink.  Almost certainly doomed to get eaten by something horrible, after all their former friends have been eaten first.

Here's the detailed breakdown:

Lawful Do-Gooder: these are the guys who want to bring back civilization and heal the world, and will work for it in an organized fashion.  They're well-meaning but usually hampered by their own rules, and by a lack of numbers.  The only significant groups in the world of the Last Sun that fit this alignment and are still around seem to be the Clerics (who have lost any kind of institutional order at this point, and are consistently undone by virtue of G.O.D. having gone insane).   The long-defunct Pythian (Elven) Knights were also Lawful Do-Gooders too, but destroyed themselves in some as-yet unrevealed fashion.  Lawful Do-Gooders will tend to put procedure over the actual doing of good, which can mean slaughtering people who don't fit the plan for saving the world, or not really helping out of bureaucratic inertia when the shit is hitting the fan.  The Time Dinosaurs may also be Lawful Do-gooders, what with their being highly religiously devout, but if so are apparently extremely constrained by rules against most kinds of temporal interference.

Neutral Do-Gooder:  The guys who want to help everyone as best as possible.  Represented by a variety of individuals, and as a group by the Azure Order of Wizards, who are the nicest people seen in the setting thus far.  Usually overwhelmed by the overall shittiness of the world but they can often make little gains at helping small groups and local areas to be more tolerable.

Chaotic Do-Gooder: They generally want to help everyone, one person at a time.  Have no tolerance for group work beyond an immediate circle of friends, or for any rules that get in the way of doing what they personally define as good. Arguably, Anthraz the Destroyer (the greatest adventurer there ever was, now in his dotage) could be a Chaotic Do-Gooder, because he usually only slaughtered Assholes and tried to help people, sort of. So is Doctor Theobald, the Ape-man intellectual.

Lawful Freak:  Cultists of organized pseudo-religious sects and gangs like the Halcon Lords; or groups that follow some single cause that isn't actually going to make the world any better but that's important to them. Note that they sometimes THINK that whatever they're doing is going to somehow 'fix everything' but this claim never stands up to reason. The Dwarves as a culture have mostly become Lawful Freaks at this point, obsessed with avenging their various grievances from the Book of Grievances and with the (seemingly impossible) task of reclaiming their ancient homelands in the deep Machine Levels under the earth. The NecroTreant was also an example of a lawful freak: he wanted to abolish all life as an "abomination" and leave the world an irradiated wasteland where only his seed-children would thrive. The Eco-Ogres were another good example. Likewise, the Daemon(s?) known as the Three Fates.  As individuals, they have their own set of Crazy Rules and they won't break them.

Neutral Freak:  these guys really don't care about anything except their Thing. They'll display an almost catatonic level of disinterest in whatever isn't related to that Thing.  They'll try to make everything about that Thing.  They can otherwise be nice, or terrible, or just bland, but will inevitably end up being annoying.  Bolt-O the Robot, the King of Elfland, Frenchy the Gold Mutant Gold-miner, the Hipster Elves, and any number of mutant tribes (who have often elevated their particular Thing into taboos or fetishes) are the prime examples from the campaign.

Chaotic Freak:  the guys who have just spent way too long staring into the Eye of the Void.  Their "thing" is usually to up the level of Chaos itself wherever they go.  The weaker adherents of this alignment will usually meet a quick death for being insufferable gits; while the more powerful ones are the crazy motherfuckers that you most want to stay away from, because you can't reason with them, can't offer them anything (except maybe by random chance), and you never know what they'll do to you.  The Wizard Nikos is the best example of this alignment in the campaign, followed closely by the Daemon Azi-Dahaka.

Lawful Asshole:  These are the guys who use rules to rule.  They are the evil overlords, the gang leaders, the tribal chiefs, or the Collective Assholes who don't give a fuck about anything other than things being done their way.  Also, rules-lawyers.  The campaign is so full of these guys that it would be hard to list them all:  the Smug Elves, The Assassin King, The Snake Witch, Goldeater, and many more.

Neutral Asshole:  this is your standard run-of-the-mill Asshole.  The default alignment for most people in the setting.  Not devoted enough to anything to stand out, for the most part, but definitely in it for themselves.  If they end up getting power of a personal or political variety they'll mostly use it to engage in wanton hedonism.  Priscilla the Queen of the Grey People is a Neutral Asshole (a particularly annoying one), as is the Jade Empire Games Controller (now the new King of the Grey People), the Jade Empress, the now-deceased Dragon-Daemon Tiamat, and various others.  Most of the non-cleric PCs we've had over the years of the campaign have been Neutral Assholes.

Chaotic Asshole:  these are the assholes who are all about themselves, just about all the time.  They can work with others (they're not nuts) but when they want something they won't hesitate to knife their grandmother in the back to get it.  They'd gladly save the world if you paid them enough or gave them right magic item, but would just as gladly betray you after.  They can end up with temporal power as well, but unlike Lawful Assholes won't really see that as an end, just a means to an end; they don't usually care about ruling over others. Most Halflings in the setting are Chaotic Assholes. So was the late sloth/crime-lord Slothy-Rodriguez. Likewise, the Daemons Sezrekan and the Lord of All Flesh, and of course Bill the Elf.

Anyways, that's it.  I think this new Alignment model could work really well not just for my DCC game, but probably for quite a few gonzo OSR-campaigns out there.  Feel free to use them!


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

Sunday 17 May 2015

Gencon Registration

I was out for most of the day.  I have five minutes now, to write something for "today's" blog.  Coincidentally, from my G+ stream it seems that people are registering for Gencon.

Another year, another Gencon missed.  One of these days, I'll be there.
And oh what a year that will be.  I half-expect the Earth will shake.

Anyways, my best wishes and eternal envy to those who are going.


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

Saturday 16 May 2015

DCC Campaign Update: Birth of the Cyber-Redneck

In this adventure, the PCs were caught up in the midst of:

-The Cleric Ack'Basha falling deeper and deeper into the rabbit-hole of his implausible revenge-fantasy against Sezrekan.

-the new Warrior in the party, Byfeld, turning out to be pretty much based on this guy:

-discussing whether someone could "Forest Walk" through a Necrotreant; and deciding to err on the side of caution

-a minor incident when the Warrior Redneck claims that "all purple mutants look alike".

-A series of other George-W-Bushisms from said Redneck Warrior

-coming to the realization that Schul, the party's rogue, is a really terrible liar.  As in, really bad at it.

-Encountering the dreaded Necrotreant, and learning that among his various statements of religious-policy, he has declared hats an abomination.

-meeting the Purple Mutant Chief, who is desperate to prove that he's still totally relevant, and has not at all been completely marginalized into obscurity by the Necrotreant and his religious cult of shaman-wizards.

-Bush-related paranoia.  Not as in George W., but as in literal bushes.  It's scary to try to sneak up on the Necrotreant in the middle of a forest when the dude can apparently turn any foliage into a horrific vegetable-undead monstrosity.

-A near-interminable rambling and pointless anecdote from the King of Elfland, who is very clearly the Grandpa Simpson of Daemon-Patrons

-realizing that to the Necrotreant, it's not just hats; pretty much EVERYTHING is an "abomination".

-finding that the whole of the Purple Mutant Tribe is just in denial. Caught up in their best chance ever to destroy their hated enemies, the Smug Elves of the Silver Dome, they've managed to convince themselves that when the NecroTreant says that "mutants are an abomination", he obviously must mean all those OTHER mutants, not them.  Surely this won't come back to bite them in the ass.

(to be fair, there's few things worse than a smug elf)

-Realizing that for the moment it's probably better to join them rather than try to beat them; though joining them might mean having to eat a delicious-looking stew made out of Green Mutant Princesses.

-reluctantly joining the cause of the NecroTreant in exchange for Queen Priscilla of the Grey People being liberated, rather than added to the stew.  And immediately regretting it, because now they have to put up with Queen Priscilla again.  Queen Priscilla, on the other hand, is very pleased with the death of her fellow princesses, since she was pretty sure they were all "skanks" who "probably had STDs".

-Discovering new boundaries to just how badass Sandy the Bikini-Chainmail Barbarian is, when she manages to be terrifyingly threatening while armed with nothing more than a sharpened carrot.

-Figuring out that casting Sleep while floating sixty feet in the air might not be such a good idea, if you misfire and end up dozing off in mid-flight and plummeting to your near-death.

-the clear confirmation that the Purple Mutant Chief is definitely no longer in any way relevant.

-Finding that the Purple Mutants like the worship hard, sacrifice hard, and then party hard with a post-cannibalism rave dance.  It's pretty much like that with all barbarians, as the party's willingness to party is pretty evenly split along barbarian/civilized lines.

-waking up the next morning with a variety of levels of hangover; the best case being very mild, the worst cases being Redneck Warrior who got into a drunken knife-fight, and Queen Priscilla who accidentally killed a Purple Mutant during some heavy necking when she forgot that she was poisonous to humanoids.  Fortunately, Schul the Rogue might be a really bad liar, but he is a fully-trained former grave-digger.

-getting that Queen Priscilla may be the most annoying entity in the multiverse, when she can manage to get Ack'Basha the normally placid party cleric to mock-drown her in a bucket of water.  Though he was still nice enough to give her a potion of water-breathing first.  Predictably, Queen Priscilla thinks Ack'Basha is the 'perviest cleric ever' and that he's obviously doing it because he 'fancies' her.

-An assessment of their present choices:  Night the Elf is fighting a one-woman guerrilla war against the NecroTreant, while everyone else in the party has decided to join him in his assault on the Silver Dome.  No one is sure if either is really a good idea.

-Deciding to get the heck out of Dodge (or rather, of the Purple Mutant town of Cordallen) while the getting is good; but pausing briefly so Redneck Warrior can pick up some wild carrots to make up for the one he lost in the drunken knife-fight.

-later deciding to tie Queen Priscilla to a tree and abandon her in the woods while going to see how the Purple-Mutant/Smug-Elf battle-royale goes down.

-Watching as the Elven lightning-gun defenses cause a near-immediate rout among the panicky purple mutants.  But things get interesting when the NecroTreant apparently sacrifices all of his undead treants to drive roots up against the foundations of the Dome, cracking it open.

-Continuing to watch from the security of a hiding place as the Purple mutants rally, only to flee again when their shamans accidentally botch their Choking Cloud spell and cause a lethal poison-gas attack on their own ranks.  Things get worse when the Elves release their hunter-killer droids; but the NecroTreant still has some tricks up his sleeve, as he entangles them in fungal vines until the robots are crushed.

-Finally deciding to join the fray, or at least try to make a dash-and-grab for some quick loot, when they see the Purple Mutant elite warriors sneaking their way toward the crack in the dome while carrying a mysterious and elaborate box that just screams 'secret weapon'.

-Managing to get through the crack under a spell of darkness only to get pinned down under a hail of blaster fire from Elven and Android troops.

-attempting to hold against the barrage; all except Night, who flies off to keep an eye on the NecroTreant, and Byfeld the Redneck Warrior, who tries to hide inside the Secret-Weapon-Box even though it's clearly not large enough for him to fit in.

-Discovering that the Secret-Weapon box is filled with hideous writhing fungal-undead seeds.  Not sure what else to do, and seeing his team-mates on the verge of getting slaughtered, Redneck Warrior decides to do what he does best and smash the living shit out of the weird seed-pods.

-observing the shattering of the NecroTreant's dreams of purity, as the seeds he planned to germinate in an explosion of the Silver Dome's powersphere (an explosion that would have utterly annihilated all life within a radius of a thousand miles) to create a new race of Mutant NecroTreants are destroyed by a human yokel with an oversized mace.

-running like hell from the super-efficient Smug Elves and their Android soldiers, abandoning the critically-injured Redneck Warrior to his fate.

-an act of blatant opportunism as Night the Elf takes advantage of the NecroTreant's distracted grief to hit him with every spell he's got. As it turns out, the King of Elfland's modified 'haste' spell provides Night with ALMOST enough power to kill the already-wounded NecroTreant; fortunately for Night, good old-fashioned fire manages to finish the job before the NecroTreant can retaliate with his death ray.

-groaning as the King of Elfland, who just maybe, maybe, is not quite as senile as he lets on, cannot resist the pun of saying that the NecroTreant's "bark" was worse than his bite.

-a denoument, as Byfeld the Redneck Warrior wakes up in the middle of the Tangled Forest, finding that instead of being elf-food, he's been set loose in the forest, and his horrific laser-injuries repaired in the form of a cybernetic lower-body... and possibly a mind-controlling brain-implant.


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

Friday 15 May 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: What Levels Do

Let's start, before anything else, by separating the concept of "level" from the concept of "class". Because of D&D, where both these concepts came up and are intertwined intrinsically, there is the idea that you can't have "Level" without having "class". Even in D20, this isn't true. D20 Cthulhu, for example, is essentially a classless system, but has levels.

A debate pro or con for class could be handled at a different time, but today is "level"'s turn.

So what exactly does "level" mean in RPG context? At its basic, it is a concept for representing character advancement, by which a player, over time, improves at his abilities. It is most notable, and listen carefully because a lot of people don't get this, for its limiting qualities, rather than its permissive qualities.
That is, a Level isn't there to tell you what stuff you are getting so much as to tell you what limit there is to the stuff you get.

A lot of people who have issues with the concepts of "Level", in reality have issues with the D&D concept of level. In the latter, when you go up in level, you gain more hit points, skill points, possibly a new feat, and your combat and saving throws all go up.
For some people, there is an issue of "realism" at play with that idea, of across the board advances. Even if a wizard's combat bonus will be lower than a warrior's at 20th level, why is it necessary at all for the wizard's combat bonus to go up, they ask? To them, the idea that spending more time being a better thief makes your hit points go up, or that spending time being a better wizard makes your combat abilities go up, seems ludicrous.

And there's certainly some validity in that. Someone could provide the counterargument that a wizard spending a lot of time around warriors will, even if he never gets in a single fight himself, pick up a few pointers about combat that he could in theory use; but that counterargument is imperfect at best. It doesn't explain why, for example, an NPC wizard who lives in Wizardopolis where no warriors are allowed, and never gets into fights, would get better at combat as he goes up in level.

However, these are not really issues with the concept of "Level" so much as issues with how D&D in particular combines "level" and "class".

Now, if we remember that fundamentally, the mechanical raison d'ĂȘtre of Levels is limiting, rather than permissive, we grasp that Levels aren't really there to "give" you stuff, they're there to give you a LIMIT to where your current "stuff" can be.

In terms of game playability, this is why levels are so incredibly useful. Levels serve to say: "after x number of adventures you can only do +y maximum with ability Z". Whether "x" is reflected through experience points, raw point awards, or some other weirder mechanic is irrelevant. But what is important is that it prevents you from raising ability Z any HIGHER than value "y".

So a Level is really a limit. Its saying that a 7th level fighter can't have better than +7 to fight; or that a 12th level wizard can't cast higher than 12th level spells.

What happens if you don't use levels? Then suddenly, you are left with a system where there is no "y" maximum.
Systems without levels are usually point-buy systems, though not always. In a point-buy system, your only "Limits" are the concept of your own character and the number of "advancement points" you have to spend.
And inevitably, in any unlimited point-buy system I have seen, you will end up with people minimizing-maximizing their skills, abilities, stats in general in order to end up with one or two stats that are radically greater than they should be, and a number that are probably less than they ought to be.
This is a very serious problem, and the disease that leveling intends to avoid.

Because, let's face it, "character concept" is usually a very very frail system of limiting abuse, even in the most dedicated of immersion players. If you see the mechanical value of pumping all 25 of your advancement points into the "shortbow" ability, and therefore ending up grossly overbalanced with the shortbow, you will come up with some "character concept" excuse to justify it.

This is just human nature.

(point buy also generally takes a lot longer, without any grand equivalent in creativity from a well-crafted leveling system, as far as I'm concerned)

And the very proof is in D&D. Of all those people I see complaining about "why would a 20th level wizard have a +7 to hit?", I have never seen one say "I don't think it fits MY concept, so thanks for the offer but I will just keep my wizard at +0 to hit even though I get nothing in exchange for that".
Yes, they'd probably willingly trade that +7 for a bonus in some other thing (maybe spellcasting), but they'd never just choose not to advance. So basically, they'd willingly choose to min-max, but they wouldn't actually choose to play a character that they knew would be weaker at something they admit is outside their character concept, just because of principle.
And that's human nature too, because if you know that every other 20th level wizard is going to have +7, you don't want to feel inferior or more vulnerable.

Meanwhile, without the structure of level-based advancement, in a point buy system that wizard would be min-maxing his powers just like everyone else.

Now, there are some point-buy systems that impose caps on how many points you can put in a single stat. This is outside the argument, however, because by default the moment you create any kind of cap for advancement you are creating levels! The system in question might not call it levels, but if it quacks like a duck...

Thus, the question isn't really about "are Levels good things"? So much as the question is "what kind of level system do you want"? Do you want the simplicity of across-the-board advancement, or do you want a point-allotment advancement where you can choose what advances, but every stat has its cap?
This ends up being a question of taste, and of what kind of play you want your system to emulate.
But any system that doesn't impose a Level concept of some kind, be it across-the-board-non-exchangeable or points-with-caps, is going to end up being far too vulnerable to min-maxing and thus to game imbalances.

On a final note, there are a couple of other approaches besides point-buy that try to create balanced advancement systems without using levels. Most of these end up being either too byzantine or too simplistic to be really playable.
One in particular, however, does seem to provide a viable alternative: that would be the BRP/Chaosium/Cthulhu system; wherein you only advance in skills you have used in-game, and you only advance via an advancement check. In BRP, this is done by rolling percentiles and getting the percentage value of the skill or higher, and gaining a die's worth of advancement in that skill.

This sort of system is eminently playable, but it does create two new complications that do not appear in level-based systems:
1. there is no simple way to reflect study for the gaining of new skills. In Cthulhu, someone can go through training (usually college courses) to gain advancement in a new skill he does not already have. However, with certain skills this doesn't seem very logical (what exactly would constitute a six-month course in "dodge"?) and it also leads to people potentially trying to maximize their "study" time in order to abuse the system.
2. This system creates a tendency to try to "use" as many skills as humanly possible in each session, again to maximize the number of checks you get. This was at its worst in systems like Runequest, where players would literally go around with wheelbarrows of weapons and try to hit with each weapon once, in order to go up in each different weapon skill.

This second problem can be moderated by making skills more generalized and less specified (so that the players don't feel pushed to use a different weapon each time, since they'll gain in a "weapon class" rather than a "weapon type"), and by judicious GM standards of what constitutes a "Valid" skill check that warrants an advancement at the end of the session.
The first problem is resolved mostly by time constraints and GM use of common sense to limit how many "courses" a player can take to gain new skills.

Despite these problems, a BRP-style "use only" advancement scheme is still usually far more balanced than a no-limits point-buy level-less system.

So there you have it. The conclusion is that Levels are not just good, they are practically essential to a balanced system, with very few exceptions. The real issue is in finding a Level mechanic that actually suits your likes and needs.


(Originally posted January 13 2006)

Thursday 14 May 2015

Tip Your Friendly Neighbourhood Pundit

So now that the Bundle for Nepal is wrapped up, having raised over $3300 for the CARE Nepal charity, I can get back to a charity a little bit closer to home: The Pundit's Coffee & Tobacco Fund.

If you like my work here, or what I do in general, and want me to keep it up, please consider putting some cash in my virtual tip jar over on the side, in the Paypal Donation button.  Pick any category you want.

All money in this particular charity will be utterly squandered in order to help me achieve the particular altered states of consciousness that assist me to do my best writing.



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

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Grant Morrison's "18 Days"

Today, just a short blog entry.  I was recently given this book by Jong WK (RPGsite regular and former Shadowrun-writer and fellow Uruguayan gamer). It was a wonderful present, and I thought I'd mention that if you are into Arrows of Indra, you should probably check this book out for some serious inspiration.  Particularly if you want to have more of  Kirby-esque style to your Arrows of Indra campaign.  It's a fantasy/sci-fi version of the Mahabharata war (the 18 days being how long the war at Kurukshetra lasted), which is to say the exact same period of time the setting of the Bharata Kingdoms is based on in Arrows.  The story bible provides details for many of the exact same characters that are briefly mentioned in AoI.

Plus, check out some art:

The book is totally full of some truly amazing artwork.  So, if you're an AoI fan, you should probably check out "18 Days".


Currently Smoking:  Stanwell Deluxe + Image Latakia

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Pictures From Uruguay (Part IV)

Time for another installment!

Today, just a few street-scenes from the Cordon.

This is one of several little streets in the Cordon that are only like, one or two blocks long.  The spot with the little flags where the street ends is a a daycare of some kind.  Again, you can see the big variety of architectural styles.

Probably my favorite of these micro-streets is "Arismendi" street.  It's named after the founder of Uruguay's Communist Party; and it's a pointless street that goes nowhere.  I think that's very fitting.

As you can see, Montevideo is a fairly green city, and the Cordon especially so.  One of the boundary-areas of the neighbourhood is the Parque Rodo, which is a large urban park with a number of interesting spots and statuary (and even a little castle!).  One of these days I'll go take some photos there to show y'all.

I can't remember if these shots were taken on a Sunday, or in the afternoon.  either cases would explain why everything is closed.  In pretty much all of Montevideo, most stores are closed on Sundays.  In the Cordon, they have the curious habit (something that was once common all over the city, but is now very rare outside of this area) of having stores close during an extended lunch-time/siesta period in the middle of the day. You'll note that first store is a bookstore:  Montevideo has more bookstores than just about any city I've ever seen.  They're everywhere.

And for the last one today: here's a shot of a 'mini plaza'.  Montevideo is marked by a number of very big plazas which often form the epicenter of a local neighbourhood .  The big ones cover an entire city block.  But it also has a variety of tiny plazas; and the Cordon in particular has a large number of these.  They all have names (stuff like "Plaza Salvador Allende"), and usually but not always have at least one tree.  Occasionally they have a statue or some other piece of art.
In this case, this one is basically just an island in the intersection of several streets; that spot to the left of the plaza is actually a monument, though, I think to political prisoners of fascist regimes or something like that. I'm not sure, because someone stole its sign the last time I looked.

Stay tuned for the next installment, where I'll be showing you a local delicacy of the city that is probably bound to make you jealous.


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

Monday 11 May 2015

Traveller Campaign Update: Monkeys Throwing Rocks Edition

So in our latest adventure, the PCs started out very carefully and meticulously trying to explore the freaking-huge Ancient Superstarship. At first.  After a short while, of exploring crazy super-machines that they stood no chance of comprehending, that were at the very limits of their most theoretical science and logic, these prime examples of some of the greatest spacefarers and scientists and archeologists of the Third Imperium were basically acting like these guys:

I swear to christ, by about halfway through the session they were literally throwing rocks at some of these alien objects to see if anything happened!

Speaking of rocks, at one point they found a machine making apparently-useless cubes, and for no apparent reason decided to take one with them:

(so basically this, but without the love)

Finally they managed to figure out the internal teleportation system enough to get around, the professor found a universal translation rock in an alien coffin, and they got to what passes for the bridge, only to find out that the ship's computer is basically this guy:

They managed to get the ship out into space at long last, only to find that the Imperium's version of Inspector Javert was waiting for them with a capital ship.  Even so, he was willing to forgive all and shower them with every reward the Imperial House can offer in exchange for the only functioning Ancient's starship ever found (hell, the only Ancient find ever that wasn't basically just garbage and ruins); and it looks like the PCs will finally be coming out winners.  Then, suddenly, it's all snatched away from them as that same small space-column that had previously appeared to save their asses the last time the Imperium had caught them appears again, and promptly disintegrates the entire capital ship (thus erasing a guy who was in a lot of the PC's list of official enemies).

The PCs are ambivalent about this: on the one hand, they went in about 2.5 seconds from being the most wanted criminals in the subsector, to being Heroes of the Empire, to being the most wanted criminals in the Empire period.  On the other, "Javert" was dead.  Also, the guy piloting the other Ancient vessel claims to be the supposedly dead Uncle Roman.  But now he wants the PCs to hand the Ancient starship over to him; and what's worse, he's apparently working for the Traveller universe's version of this guy:

He promises them power unlimited, naturally, and all their wildest dreams, but before half the party can agree, the other half tells their mentally-defective ship's computer to do an emergency jump.

The computer obeys, they get away, for now, and end up in some kind of starship-sized teleporter platform in the middle of nowhere, that takes them... somewhere...


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Rhodesian + Image Latakia