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Tuesday 30 June 2015

Everyjoe Tuesday!

That's right, its Everyjoe two days in a row.

Yesterday, in case you missed it, I posted a non-political article about how to be a successful expat, which has been getting some very good responses!

Today, I have an article about how the real divide in American politics, and how, if people realized how the old tribes don't make sense anymore, the whole game would change: in debates about the Confederate Flag, in debates about Gay Marriage, in just about everything.

So if you want to know what I think about those subjects, check out today's article!

As always, and in both cases, please go comment there, and please if you liked either article do share it, tweet it, +1 it, repost it, etc. etc.!



Currently Smoking: Mastro de Paja Bent Apple + Gawith's Squadron Leader

Monday 29 June 2015


Yes, today we have a special edition of Everyjoe Tuesday, on Monday!  This is because of an extra article I've written for them, which is NOT my typical libertarian political rant, but rather is all about What You Need to Know if You Want to Escape to South America!

Ever wonder just how you could go and be an expat? And what makes the difference between the people who move to another country and prosper, and those who eventually fail to make it work?

Well, read the article, and then find out!

Please feel free to share it, anywhere and everywhere, and go comment there, or +1 it, or whatever.  Thanks!


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

Sunday 28 June 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: Standing Up For the Majority

The facts are that the VAST majority of gamers out there play D&D. Some play pretty basic "hack n'Slash" D&D, some play more sophisticated games, but the majority of roleplayers don't play anything else.

I'm not talking here about the majority of roleplayers that go online. Those are just a tiny tiny fraction of the millions of people who play RPGs on a regular basis. Nor the hardcore convention-goers, who are perhaps only a slightly larger percentage. I'm talking about the guys who bought a PHB over the years (be it 1st or 3rd edition), play the game in high school and college, and a few retrogrades who have been playing a weekly game with their pals for the last twenty years.

We know the reality is, de facto, that Forge-type thematic games are not the popular choice. Hell, even story-based white wolf type games are not the popular choice, though the people who play those are a considerably larger demographic than those who play the former.

There's really only two ways to analyze this reality:

The first is the Forge's way. It says that the vast majority of these people are actually unhappy in their gaming, and that the "regular gamer" is lying to himself when he says he enjoys his regular games and needs nothing else. The Regular Gamer just doesn't know that there are other games out there, or has been brainwashed by "corporate" goons into believing that he should only play D20, and would be drawn to more "intellectual" gaming if only there was the right combination of promotion of the games and de-brainwashing of the potential players.

The second is my way. My way says that these gamers are exactly what they appear to be: perfectly happy doing what they're doing right now. What they want is more and better of the same stuff. They do NOT need to be re-educated, they are not lying to themselves or others about their fun.
So that's why I see myself as championing them. You believe they need to be "fixed"; I don't. I think that what needs fixing, if anything, is the pretentious and insipidly incestuous culture of the so-called "gaming elite", be they the story-swine at White Wolf, the Forge-swine, or the would-be cognoscenti that run around pretending to be a part of the "gaming industry" (as if such a thing really existed outside of Wizards).

These are the guys who will fuck up the wild ride, not the average joes that have bought their ticket. These are the guys who say we have to re-mold gaming in their image and that for some reason no one fathoms but them, we should accept one gang of fuckfaces or another as our lords and masters in deciding what is best for us, just because said gang of shitheads claim that they know what gamers really want better than the gamers. I say to them: fuck that!

So to sum up: my position is better for the sake of arguing who stands with the majority by virtue of taking the majority at their word, rather than portraying them as a gang of sheep who need to be led along by the muzzle.


(Originally posted May 8, 2006)

Saturday 27 June 2015

More Pictures of the Upcoming "Dark Albion: The Rose War" OSR Book

So, I have to play Albion in 20 minutes, which means I have no time to write.   Fuck it, then, I'm just going to show you some more Albion while I go play Albion because I think you might like Albion:

From the demonology rules:

from the poison/herbalism section:

From the equipment section:

From the Noble House Management rules:

From the section on The Wall:

That's it for today cause I have to go Albion, but later there may be more Albion for you to get into Albion because of Albion.


Currently Smoking:  Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia

Friday 26 June 2015

Wanna Hire a Pundit?

So with Dark Albion finally winding down, and not feeling quite ready to take on my own next big game-writing project, I find myself with some space to do stuff.

Anyone want to hire a Pundit?  I'm a fairly talented game writer, blogger, writer in general, and Creative Consultant that can go through whatever project you're doing with a scalpel and figure out everything wrong with it, mechanically, conceptually, or in terms of presentation.

If you want me to consult on your RPG, or Kickstarter Project (Green Ronin, I'm still waiting for that email!), or something else (I can write about anything except politics, all my political writing goes to, just send me a message or email or whatever.  My rates are reasonable!

Remember: just getting my name on your product/project is going to generate lots of attention.


Currently Smoking:  Moretti Rhodesian + Gawith's Squadron Leader

Thursday 25 June 2015

First Look at the "Dark Albion: The Rose War" Book

I woke up yesterday morning to the VERY pleasant surprise of my mailman dropping off the print proof copy of Dark Albion. Ordinarily, because of living in South America, I'm usually the last person to get copies of my own games or games I worked on.  But Dominique Crouzet's meticulous attention to detail meant sending me a proof copy to make a final check that everything was alright.  So now, I get the book first, and I get to show it to all of you.

Now, the cover is NOT the final cover; the final version of the book will be available in hardcover and softcover formats and will have two different covers, but this cover is not exactly either of the two (though the central "Choosing the Roses" image will be featured on one of the two covers):

The back cover will be pretty much this:

The book is 278 pages. Here it is side-by side compared to the 5e PHB (Albion is the one on the left):

The cat was carefully judging the precise difference, and concluded that Albion is slightly larger.

The interior of the book will be (barring any found and corrected typos) EXACTLY like what you'll get in the final product, so here's the preview:

So, I have some more but I think that's enough for today.  It gives you a good idea of how it looks, anyways.  I have to say it exceeds my expectations!

As soon as I'm done the proof-checking, Dark Albion: the Rose War will be available for general purchase.


Currently Smoking:  Castello 4K  Collection Canadian + Image Latakia

Wednesday 24 June 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: RPGPundit's Dice-Derived Theory of Gamers

People do not choose RPGs based on their narrative needs or story needs. Most people do not really have any of those kinds of needs; they haven't thought about them, wouldn't feel strongly about them even if they did think about them, and would probably just make shit up if asked about it from fear of not looking intellectual enough.
Most people would also not have a clue which games would fit which "playstyles", given that no one can seem to agree on how to categorize playstyles in the first place.

Instead, people will usually gravitate to differing RPGs for entirely shallow reasons, purely aesthetic elements that reflect more about their extrovert personality than their introverted "needs". You can identify types of gamers and the kind of games they enjoy more from the kind of dice that they favour than from any subjective set of jargon about "playstyles".

Gamers that like D20s are mostly interested in rapid, fun play. They like a good solid ruleset, want games to be coherent without being too completist, and will in no way be picky or selective about the games they play as long as its fun to play. They are by a VAST majority the most common kind of gamer.

Gamers that like D6s don't care about how a game looks, they care about how it works. What kind of dice a game use doesn't matter, a simple D6 is enough, its more important that the rules BE there. They are technical perfectionists, wanting games that function with detail and consistency. They don't fear big rulebooks. They want games that demand a serious level of commitment; and are seeking out a kind of perfect game system, a set of rules so thorough and complete that they cover everything.

Gamers that like percentile dice (not D10s, but rolling 2D10s as percentiles) are a cross between D20 and D6 people. They want something solid and dependable, but simple to understand. So simple you can express it in percentiles. Getting to the game is very importance, but the mechanics have to be there.

Gamers that like D10s, on the other hand, prefer play that's mostly style over substance. D10s are the only dice that aren't Platonic Solids. This clearly means that D10 lovers are obviously degenerates (unless they're percentage lovers, who aren't really dice lovers at all). They actually care more about a game looking and acting cool and being thought of as "hip" than actually working. Ease of play and fun aren't as important as the "fulfillment" of seeming to do something important.

Gamers that like D12s or D8s are the ones who enjoy weird for weird's sake. They aren't as purely solipsistic as the D10-lovers, they enjoy mechanics, but they want mechanics that aren't orthodox. They want mechanics that are generally counter-intuitive; and generally don't want complexity as much as they want originality. They aren't looking for the perfect game system, they're looking for a new game system every week.

Gamers who like D4s are sadomasochistic sexual deviants who enjoy being molested by lizards.


(originally posted April 24, 2006)

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Pictures from Uruguay: Part VI

Today a mixed bag of stuff, taken as I went out north past the Cordon (my neighbourhood) and into the downtown area, which is a long stretch of several streets that extend for about 30 blocks east/west from the old city to the city's obelisk.  This is the length of "18 de Julio", the "main street" of the city.   But rather than views of shops, today I got you some interesting buildings, some art, and a plaza.

So this here is just an interesting bit of art; political art in this case, as it commemorates the union of students.  Not a 'student union' in the sense of American Universities, but in the sense of a literal union. The effect is much the same, though: both make total asses of themselves presenting an utterly unrealistic utopic vision of how just about everything should work.

The "no a la baja" was in reference to a recent referendum.  The right-wing parties wanted to make people under the age of 18 responsible for their crimes (at present, all they get is detention in a youth facility). The student associations were opposed to the change, with the idiotic motto of "being young isn't a crime" (no, but CRIMINAL ACTS are crimes!).  In any case, the "no" side won and to this day 17.5 year-olds are not criminally responsible for butchering people in Uruguay.

Here we have a large building, just to make it clear that it's not all small or old buildings.  Though this one probably dates to the 1950s or 1960s, so "new" is a relative term.

Here are some more buildings, showing off the contrast of older and newer architecture.  To me, of course, the 19th and early-20th century architecture is the coolest.

Here we have a plaza, with a particularly nice flowering tree. The statue is of one of the various "founding fathers" of Uruguay.  The closed stalls are market stalls, that were not open on the day I took the photo. You often see people sitting around in the plazas:  on a weekend day, favorite activities around town include going to see futbol/soccer, going to the beach, or just sitting around in a public plaza drinking mate.


Currently Smoking: Savinelli Oom Paul + Gawith's Balkan Flake

Monday 22 June 2015

Blue Rose And Just Who The Heroes Are

So the Blue Rose kickstarter has launched, and there's no question that it's going to fund, being paid for by dozens or perhaps hundreds of people who will never actually play the game, but will pay good money to feel superior to others for supporting something that is 'making a difference' in no actually discernible way, but in the sense that it has all the right APPEARANCES of giving pseudo-activist street cred to anyone who says they 'support' it.

I thought it was interesting that one of the first questions asked, in a G+ thread where Green Ronin announced the kickstarter was "just what would you actually do in a setting like this? Who would the heroes even be?"  (The question may have come from someone with no prior experience with Blue Rose)

Steve Kenson responded "the adventurers are most likely members of the Sovereign's Finest, chosen defenders of Aldis and agents of its crown".

Hmm. Telling. 

See, Blue Rose is really all about pseudo-activist utopian visions. How they imagine that an 'ideal' world would be like (if all those evil patriarchies and imperialisms and whatever didn't get in the way), and just who they would like to see themselves as.  After all, most RPG play is wish-fulfillment of some variety; but while most D&D players might like to imagine themselves a hero or a wizard, the Blue Rose writers (and fans) want to imagine themselves in a world where THEY are the enforcers who get to decide what is best for everyone else.

So it's obvious when you think about it: in the default game of Blue Rose you are meant to play the Thought Police.  Steve Kenson boldly admits it. That's the pseudo-activist dream: that they could have the authority to actually get to go around and impose their ideas on everyone else whether they like it or not.  Naturally they see the world that would result from that kind of fascism to be a utopia, but so did every other fascist ever.

Ironically, this make Blue Rose pretty much the exact OPPOSITE of the kind of lesson-giving game on real social justice that you might want to see.

In Aldis as written, you cannot play a plucky young heroine who is trying to make her way in the world and accomplish her dream while facing terrible cultural-based Institutional Discrimination, because there is no such discrimination in the setting-as-written, and the setting-as-written is not just 'absent of evidence' but is explicit in stating that the setting-as-written has no Institutional discrimination (except by the Blue Rose Scepter and Hart, against Individualists).
The lessons of civil rights or social justice are actually entirely ABSENT from the world of Blue Rose, and instead we get the lesson that the ideal world would be one where a special chosen elite rule by fiat and their lackeys get to use armed power to stop anyone who would resist the structure of that order.

Let me put the problem in language a typical progressive might just understand:  in Blue Rose's basic campaign, you're not meant to play the Ferguson protesters, fighting the power, you're meant to play the Ferguson Cops, brutally enforcing the world as they want to see it.

The hippies are turning in their graves.

And if you read that previous paragraph again, you would see that this 'lesson' ultimately is amoral: the "Order of things" is naturally what 'the right people' think 'is for the best for everyone', but that idea could just as easily be Nazism as it could be social-welfare.  As soon as you put the Collective over the Individual, you lose all moral foundation for anything other than saying "obey because we tell you to". Claims that "we're different because we're the NICE guys" is meaningless because Stalinists and Neo-Nazis think they're the nice guys too.  Anyone who decides that the right society is one where the State gets to impose its rules on individuals who have no rights to oppose it, and that the definition of 'heroism' is the armed fanatics that enforce Conformity to that status quo and brutally repress opposition are not the 'nice guys'.

If that's your definition of 'hero', then you've become the very thing you think you fight against.

I'm sure Blue Rose will be a very profitable kickstarter for Green Ronin, and everyone who backed it will get to feel smug about how they've shown what rebellious freedom-fighters for social-justice they are by backing a game where the heroes are the setting's equivalent of the Stasi or the Gestapo, so I guess more power to GR for being such clever capitalists and shamelessly milking bucks like parasites off of legitimate causes (albeit from preening idiots who would likely never have made any meaningful contributions to those causes anyways).
Likewise, I'm sure that this article will be resoundingly condemned like all criticism of the pseudo-activist collective as homophobic or sexist or something like that, even though I've supported diversity in RPGs for my entire career, and even though my vision of the world is one in which every individual has an inherent and inalienable right to their own bodies, identities, and sexuality, while their vision is one where any such rights depend on whether the Collective grants it to you or not.

But hey, every villain thinks they're the hero of their own story, right?


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

Sunday 21 June 2015

Happy Solstice Weekend

No post today: I've been swamped between Masonic stuff, the Solstice, writing work, and now I'm about to run DCC in a few hours (this weekend's Traveller game had to be cancelled; that's how busy I've been!).

So, if you want me to be able to prioritize the blog more, please consider clicking on that paypal donation button to your right!  It's like "Patreon" for normal people.


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

Saturday 20 June 2015

Thinking of Game Design as the Whole Package

So in a recent blog entry, someone compared Gary Gygax in terms of ability as a game designer to the Sex Pistols.  It was not meant to be a flattering comparison, as the implication was that the Sex Pistols succeeded by accident and were not actually good musicians.

I think the Sex Pistols comparison is incredibly apt, in fact. Because you have all these idiots imagining themselves music critics who go around saying "the sex pistols were shit (insert band here) are so much better"; ignoring that the Sex Pistols accomplished what said band could never fucking hope to do. Their argument is not based on a holistic view of what it takes to be great musicians, because they think only (insert thing they care about here: guitar skills, lyrics, whatever) is what makes a 'good' musician. And they're wrong.

Mentzer, for example, was akin to a good guitarist; he may have been better at taking Gygax's genius and reworking it into a more basically comprehensible set of rules, for example. But he was no Gary fucking Gygax.

You get this bullshit from certain Gygax-haters all the time who are always trying to claim that someone else should be praised as the great early-figure in RPGs (usually Arneson, but I've heard others). But that's bullshit. Gygax was the Whole Package, and thus the one who made it happen, and thus a great game designer. Designing a game is more than just designing clever little mechanics, which is why the assholes who make obsessive and intricate heartbreakers full of point-buy complexity are losers and not the kings of the genre. It's why the Forge never got anywhere (though even the Forge understood to some degree the value of other factors of design, often better than a lot of the fucking bizarro-grognard-nerds who shit on Gygax). 

Conversely, it is why (although he's a lesser light than Gygax) Kevin Siembieda Won the Hobby: he became the Last Man Standing of the original industry because he's a brilliant game designer even though he's only at best a so-so mechanics-writer and a poor-to-terrible businessman.

(Siembieda: The Jerry Lee Lewis of the RPG Hobby)


Currently Smoking:  Davidoff 400-series + Gawith's Balkan Flake

Friday 19 June 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: Aquelarre, and the Fucking Basques!

So, have any of you bought Cthulhu Dark Ages, or were thinking of doing so?

Well fucking don't. Here's what you do to get your medieval dark magic kick instead: Take a class in Spanish, and buy Aquelarre.

Aquelarre, by Ricardo IbaƱez, is basically a total rip-off of the Cthulhu system, set in an ultra-realistic Spain between 1300-1450, with supernatural horrors of the medieval kind. Yes, instead of foul tentacle-things man was not meant to know, you have the entire pantheon of demonic entities in the Inferno of the Catholic Church and Dante, plus the weird and often uber-creepy creatures of Spanish, Catalan and especially Basque mythology.

Fucking Basques. Goddamned descendants of the little people with their weird bizarre language with no known etymological roots and their strange totally alien pagan beliefs and their absolute resistance to cultural immersion, fucking should've been wiped out thousands of years ago but somehow manage to survive, hide in caves in those fucking mountains of theirs...

Goddamnit, I despise the Basques. They're plotting you know! They're out to call forth the outer gods when the stars are right and destroy us all! 
And I should fucking know! After all, I'm one-quarter Basque! My grandmother was an Errandonea! Euskal Erria!

(these aren't monsters or witches or anything, they're just "normal" medieval Basques)

Fuck, where was I?

Oh yes; Aquelarre. This game is brilliant. Its a house-ruled version of the BRP/CoC system with a few adjustments for setting's sake. The combat system is a little more detailed, which is a good thing.
The character creation system borrows from WFRP in that you don't get to choose your social background, its determined by random roll. And of course you have a far better chance of being a peasant than anything else. This works really well in an "authentic" medieval RPG; as long as the odds aren't made so ridiculous that they aren't worth having. In our game last night, we actually had one High Noble (son of a Baron), one Jewish Burgher, one Villain (in the old sense of the word, a city-dweller), and only one Peasant. The players did get extremely lucky on their rolls mind you (well, except the Peasant, obviously).

Another clever part of the system is how instead of "sanity" points, you have "rationality/irrationality": These are two stats that have to add to 100, and work as percentages. The more rational you are, the less irrational you are. High Rationality gives you more resistance to magic and the supernatural, but also means it will work for you less. High Irrationality means you're fairly nuts by modern 21st century standards, but you can understand and use the supernatural better. And of course, being exposed to supernatural entities and magicks means that you will lose points of Rationality, and gain Irrationality. Unless you DESTROY those things and BURN whoever brought them about, in which case you gain Rationality. That's right; burning heretics, witches and sorcerers is built into the game mechanic!

The system couldn't be grittier if you dumped a sandbox on it. When the Spaniards say "Medieval Roleplaying" they fucking mean it.

Think I'm being hyperbolic? In last night's game two of the four PCs died. But not from combat or the supernatural, no. They died from fucking Cholera.

And they've all begged me to play again. Some of them want it to replace the Wilderlands campaign as our regular campaign.

So, if you read Spanish, or are willing to pay someone to translate the game for you, get Aquelarre. It has RPGPundit's Guaranteed Anti-Swine Seal of Approval.


(Originally posted April 16, 2006)

Thursday 18 June 2015

More on Defining Identity and Rachel Dolezal

My latest article on Everyjoe has proven to be a big source of attention; according to the Invincible Overlord, it's one of my most-read articles in my history of writing there. It also generated tons of comments not only on the site but all over G+ where it was posted.

Naturally the core of the debate has been about the question of what gets to determine identity?  Some have insisted it should be on the basis of biology; even some of the people that admit that genetics has very little relationship to what we (in our culture) actually define as "race" (or "gender", or "sexual orientation") still feel that this is somehow the only 'logical' determinant.
Others feel that in the case of race, it should be skin colour that determines identity.
Still others try to argue that it should be culture.
But there are some very good reasons why none of these actually make the best determinant, and what we're left with is individual self-determination.

Let's use race as our case study, because that's at the heart of the Dolezal story:

There have been cases of fraternal twins of biracial couples (or just plain siblings) where one comes out looking every bit as blonde as Rachel Dolezal used to, and the other black-skinned.
If you judge by skin colour then only one of those two would be black.
If you judge by genetics, then they're both black but an adopted sibling that didn't have black parents wouldn't be.
If you judge by upbringing then the black child raised from infancy by a Dutch couple would not be black.

If a white kid was adopted by black parents as a baby, raised by them, and felt he identified as black, would he not be black?
And, conversely:  let's say a child was BORN of black parents, but with skin so white as to 'pass' as completely caucasian.  He identifies as black.

If the first kid is "not black", wouldn't the second also be "not black"?

As to what any of this might have to do with me: I'm half-latino, but you'd never know it to look at me. I have blue eyes and my skin is whiter than some vampires.  Does that make me "not latino"?

If I am latino anyways in spite of the colour of my skin, is it just by virtue of my birth?  Or is it because I was raised by a latino mother with hispanic cultural elements, language, and values?

If the former, does that mean that someone who was adopted right after birth, is latino but doesn't 'look it', and was raised by white German-descended Americans who raised him to 'hate mexicans' would also still be latino? Even if he in no way identified with the culture, didn't know the language, doesn't have the slightest clue of his real ancestry, and despised the people?

Or, if some other pale-skinned boy with no latino history lived in a latino neighbourhood, spoke fluent Spanish with the particular dialect of the people around him, knew all the customs, and spent 15 years of his adult life working for social causes on their behalf, would that make him Still Not A Latino, even though he's culturally WAY more latino than Minuteman-Border-Patrol Lad and probably "more latino" than I am in spite of my genetics and the fact I live in a South American country?

The problem with all this reasoning is that by any standard other than self-defining identity, you're going to end up saying to some people that they're Not This Race who would be absolutely indistinguishable in every other respect from people you arbitrarily decide do count.

Self-identification is the only way that makes sense here. And the fear that this will lead to a bunch of 'fakers' that will be just 'pretending' to be a race they aren't for some sort of nefarious purpose seems to me about as unfounded and hateful as the 'fears' some fundamentalists expressed about how transgender rights would lead to "perverts cross-dressing to get to go into women's changing rooms".

The real reason a lot of the identity-politics Left and the religious Right are so determined to find some criteria other than self-determination is because they are Collectivists. They want to get to control Identity as a way to control people: to say "you don't belong to this group" or "you get to be a special protected group" (which they must then prevent the 'wrong' people from 'appropriating') or "this group gets to be X while the other gets to be Y" as a measure of social control.  It's the same from left OR right; whether it's about controlling gender to control sex in order to control people, or whether its about keeping women 'in their place' or whether it's about having a 'narrative' that attacks certain collective-defined groups by painting other collective-defined groups as Perpetual Victims.  In ALL cases, letting people get to define their own identity fucks up the agenda

Which is, of course, pretty much the best argument for why we should do exactly that. 


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

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Game of Thrones Finale Contemplations

So unlike most of the planet, I didn't watch the season finale of Game of Thrones until last night.  That's because I go to my friend Bill the Elf's apartment to watch it: he has one of those awesome full-wall projectors, surround sound, plus the guy is a top-trained chef who cooks something fucking amazing every single week.  All this adds up to me being willing to postpone satisfaction for 48 hours, often at great risk of spoilers, just for the whole-package experience.

Anyways, now I have watched it, and it was good, but you know what my first thought was as the final credits rolled?  Not "oh my god they killed him" or "what a disappointing fucking end for that guy", or "wait, are those two just dead, then?" or "are those guys going to enslave her or make her their queen again?" or "jesus fuck Arya is a badass".
No, the first thought that spontaneously came to my head was "Not bad, but my Dark Albion campaign is better right now".  I kid you not.  I did a bit of a double-take right after that, but it's true.

Of course, Albion has a few advantages: it's happening in the theater of the mind, unlimited budget in imaginationland, etc. etc., but special effects has never been a weak spot for GoT.  It's based on real history, which to me at least is if anything more interesting than putting one's own spin on real history; but of course others might not agree.

Mostly though, it wasn't really so much a question of praising my own Albion campaign, however excellent it's been going, as it has been on how, in spite of still being really awesome, this season of GoT was undoubtedly the weakest one yet.  It felt like an intermediate season; while other seasons often started slow and built up to really huge events at the end, this one felt like it was going at a middle-pace all season long and built up to nothing; or rather, it is probably building up to whatever will happen NEXT season.  In all likelihood there's no more than two seasons left to GoT after this, and now that's quite clear, particularly with this season finale where a number of major players were taken off the board.  The endgame is approaching, but at the point where the season cut out it was like the storylines were more rambling and disconnected than ever. Nothing had very much to do with anything else this season, and I think that somewhat hurt the pace and feel of the show.

I get it though, where they're at is the lull, the equivalent in the Albion campaign of that period from 1472 to 1481 where the Rose War wasn't actually being fought in any significant way. When I was DMing my campaign, I was worried that this period would end up going glacially and feeling very blase, but instead it turned out to be hugely productive, and has had a steady if slow buildup to the climactic period of the campaign from 1483-85  (we're on 1481 right now).  So in that sense, again noting that as a GM rather than a director I had way more freedom blah blah blah, I think I handled the "slow period between major events" quite a lot better than GoT did with its five utterly disconnected plotlines.

Not saying I didn't have fun, though.  Just really wondering if next season this will end up quickly shifting into going somewhere and building up intensity again, or if we're going to have another season of this.


Currently Smoking:  Masonic Meerschaum + Image Perique

Tuesday 16 June 2015

Everyjoe Tuesday: Remember When Feminists Hated Trans People? It Sounds a Lot Like Hate for Rachel Dolezal Now...

Today, on Everyjoe, we talk about how just about EVERYTHING that the left is saying about Rachel Dolezal today is like what the radical feminists used to say about trans people. I guess the right to define one's own identity only matters when it's convenient to your cause...

Please retweet it, share it, go comment, +1 it, etc. etc.


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

Monday 15 June 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: Gary Gygax: The Original Pundit

You gotta give it to Uncle Playdoh, he's the man. Take a look at this quote, from a while back:

"There is a small but extremely vocal segment of the hardcore RPG audience, consisting of game designer-publishers and their dedicated fans, that views the game form as being something other than it is. This element believes that "story" and theatrical elements are the true substance of the game form. As the D&D game is action-adventure oriented, and the most popular RPG, it has become the target to attack by this group. It appears that the thinking in this regard is that if the 3E D&D game can be made less dominant in the marketplace, then the door will be opened for their own game products. So the debate continues. 
Perhaps there is merit in the novel theory of what the role-playing game is all about, but current successes seem to point toward combat and the heroic as remaining the themes that attract players. The 3E D&D game, and its open-source approach, will stand or fall on its own merits. My bet is that the much-abused "hack and slash" RPG format will continue to dominate the marketplace regardless of what happens, for it doesn't preclude other aspects, merely centers on the heroic fight. Hoary as the underlying concept might be, the attraction of this sort of adventure has been popular since Homer's time."

He's the man.


(Originally posted march 24, 2006)

Sunday 14 June 2015

Dark Albion Won't Just Have Albion

Yesterday, in the original Albion campaign, the player characters finally made it to the lands of the Turk, during their ongoing quest to recover the various pieces of the Lance of Mithras.   They got to see the magnificent City of Byzantium, spending time in the great market, and visiting both the old Temple of Holy Wisdom and the new Blue Temple, while awaiting a hard-won audience with the Sultan Bayezid.  There were some culture clashes which led to a couple of them being arrested, but they got off with fines.

Anyways, the upcoming Dark Albion book goes into tremendous detail about Albion, but that's not all you get in the book.  There's a reason it will be including a full hex-map of the whole continent.  It is assumed that characters in an Albion campaign will potentially travel to these distant lands.

In the course of our very long campaign, the PCs have been to: Scots' Land, the distant Azure Isles, Brittanie, Burgundy, Frogland, Lorraine, Iberia, various Arcadian city-states and the great city of Arcadia itself, Sicilia, Venetia, several of the Principalities including the Hapsburg Principalities, the mighty and powerful Commonwealth, and obviously Wallachia - and now the lands of the Turk.   They did not happen to go to Hunland, the Teutonic holdings, any of the cities of the Hanseatic League, the Canton Confederacy, the Northman Lands, the lands of the Rus, the rest of the Border Principalities, or (curiously) Eire Land.

All these, and probably a couple of others I've left out, will get mentioned in the Albion book.  And of course the setting takes place in a time of tremendous interest; over the course of the campaigns you can have Hussites, Turk invasions, the rise and fall of Burgundy, the printing press, gunpowder coming into universal use, Borgias, the establishment of the Inquisition, Renaissance masters (Da Vinci, etc.), and of course Dracula.  Some areas are ruled by the same great monarch from start to finish (like the Commonwealth King Casimir Jagiello) while other places switch rulers, or even fall in and out of existence, on a constant basis.

You will get information about all of this in the book, and more: like the list of the Pontifexes of the church (and their various history-based scandals and crimes), the commanders of the Clerical Order, biographies of kings like Casimir "the great", Mattias "the Crow" of Hunland, the doomed hero Skanderbeg of Albania, the Turk Sultan Mehmet the Great, and many others of the great movers and shakers.

(with a kingly nickname like "the Crow" you just know this guy's going to be up to trouble)

There's entirely enough material in Albion that you could run a whole campaign just in the area of Middlesex if you really wanted to.  But if you want your PCs to be sophisticated continent-hopping tourists, Dark Albion will have your back too.


Currently Smoking:

Saturday 13 June 2015

RPGPundit Reviews: Lowell Was Right! - A Very Different Now

This is a review of the RPG "Lowell Was Right!", published by Flying Mice games, written by Clash Bowley and Albert Bailey.  It's a softcover book with a full-color cover featuring a redheaded woman in what appears to be a Victorian dress (though we find out later that it's not), and holding a strange sort of rifle. The book is about 190 pages long, and other than the front and back cover images and some logos has only three pieces of interior art.

At first glance, Lowell appears to be a steampunk-sci-fi game. However, we are emphatically told, directly in the book, that this is NOT what it is.  The difference is apparently that Steampunk implies a kind of fantasy or quasi-science set in the 19th century.  Lowell, instead, is based on carefully researched historical study (two years worth, according to the author) of what the prevailing scientific theories of around the 1880s were, and made the game setting with the assumption that all of these ideas were actually correct.  And it's not set in the 19th century, but in an alternate present.  The Lowell in question, from the title, is named after the guy who claimed to see Canals on Mars.

Now, the game system on the whole is the same as what Bowley uses in most of his games, so I'm not really going to bother outlining it yet again.  You can go see information about that in any of the other dozen or so reviews I've done of his other books.  I'm going to focus on what's different here.

Mainly, what's different is setting: an "alternate present" game, which asks the question of what the world would be like today if victorian ideas about science were right.  It seems an odd sort of project, but then again, most of Bowley's are.

This book is, in a way, very much 'hard' sci-fi; in that the theories being dealt with were carefully researched and the rules stuck to.  What are they?  The intro to the book provides a convenient list:

Astronomical theory: the solar system is less than 100K years old.  The sun has been very gradually shrinking, and planets were created from mass it threw off. Thus, the farthest outer planets are the oldest, the ones closer to the sun are the youngest (something that was already present in Space:1889).  This allows Mars to have had an older civilization than Earth, and to now be a planet in decline.

Panspermia: Life is everywhere in the universe; developing anywhere that has sufficient gravity and atmosphere.

Atomic Theory: the atom is the smallest thing there is. It can't be "split".  There's no radioactives. Advanced technology can, however, change one type of atom into another.

Evolution: the understanding of evolution is that life evolves in response to natural environmental factors and not due to random mutation; thus, evolution happens relatively very quickly (within a few generations).

Electronics: dual current theory, meaning that things like most forms of radios, television, or electronic-based computers are impossible.

Geology: Catastrophism suggests that geological change happens much faster than in our reality.

So all of this creates a world that is very different from our own in the present day.  Without the kind of home entertainment (radio, Tv, computers) that we have, there's more of a going-out sort of culture.  Films, live shows, and books are more important.  There are still non-home computers but they're big things run by mechanical means.  There's anti-mass jet dirigibles.

Then there's aesthetic changes, which I think are a bit less based on science as on author's choice:  hats are still worn, women wear long dresses.  Popular music took a different, but not totally dissimilar direction to our own (I think the author's choice here was based on the fact that electric instruments would not work like in our reality).

And then there's the real sci-fi stuff:  panspermia means that of course, there are Martians.  Not only that, but the Martians took ancient humans from Earth as slaves, and their descendants were already all over the solar-system by the time the Earth humans began to travel to space.

The next significant detail in the book is one that, while listed as optional, I think is a lynch-pin of making the whole game worthwhile: the use of "Associations".  Players will generate not only their characters in Lowell, but also the group they belong to, using a system that combines random generation with point-buy mechanics.  Groups are generated through the use of "capital" (points), can thus be large or quite small, and can fit one of a huge variety of types (which could be either selected or randomly rolled).  Some of the types include a trading company, bounty hunters, smugglers, espionage, explorers, a martian 'house' (think clan), a religious group, couriers, a theater troupe, researchers, or a salvage company.  They can be a private group, part of a larger organization or corporation, state owned, or a number of other similar options. You use the capital points to determine things like where the group's home base is (some possibilities include an asteroid, a lab, a hollowed-out mountain, a floating tower, an undersea habitat, a spaceport terminal, a hunting lodge, or a desert oasis, among others), whether the group has guards/security in their employ, if they have spies/agents, what kind of vehicles they control, their medical facilities, if they have psionic or etheric devices in their possession, the type and quality of their library, trainees in their service, heavy equipment at their disposal, and laboratory facilities. Over time, the company can acquire profit which allows them to expand.

There are a variety of baseline races (species?), aside from Humans, to play: Martians for one, which are a kind of humanoid armadillo-people. They have a complex social system based on the fact that almost all martian births are quadruplets. There's "Mars Humans" too, who are the descendants of the humans kidnapped as slaves by martians thousands of years ago. They have become quite different from regular humans because of the difference in gravity and density of atmosphere on Mars, and can't actually move around on Earth (or Venus) without the use of an exoskeleton aid.
There are also Venusians (intelligent bipedal dinosaurs; in following with the premise that Venus is a "younger" world than Earth); and Galileani (the term for the species found on the various moons of Jupiter, who are all vaguely similar to large humanoid fruit-bats; there are subspecies for Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto).

Character creation is done very similarly to most of the other books by Bowley, though initial stats are generated based on a template depending on which race you choose (not something that always comes up in other games by this designer, since many of his are 'historical' games), and there's more structure than in most of his games in terms of choosing background skills, and a kind of skill-tree based on the type of career you choose.

The mechanics are largely similar to those of other Bowley games as well, though he includes the use of 'traits', which are personality details that PCs can choose (examples include "hot-tempered", "pious", "greedy", "poker-face", "sly", "sarcastic" and "foul-mouthed", among others).  Traits have values that are added as a bonus to actions if the GM judges that the trait is applicable to the attempt. Each trait can only be used once per session.
Characters can also have 'edges', which are bonuses based on environment, examples include things like "Extreme weather" or "Shadow", which would apply in snowy environments or in the dark.
Characters also have "spheres of interest" (which include 'domestic', 'intellectual', 'political', 'cultural' and 'religious').  These allow for checks at +0 in areas that a PC doesn't have a specific skill that applies, with larger scores in the sphere allowing for additional bonuses.

The skill list is considerably shorter than many other Bowley games, with skills being fairly broad and overlapping. Skills are general to the field up to a +2 bonus, after which a specific expertise must be chosen.

There are psionic rules as well, on the premise that in 1880 science had not yet discounted the possibility of 'scientific' reasons for mediumship, etc. Psionics work as skills but require the expenditure of "psi points" to activate. Psi powers include telepathy, psychic healing, psychokinesis, clairvoyance, dowsing, psychic sensing, precognition, psychometry, aura reading, mediumship, retrocognition, psychic stun, and illusion.  The section explains how 'ghosts' work in the setting, where it is clear that ghosts are not actually the spirits of the dead but a 'psychic residue' of impression left by the deceased (a theory that is still popular in certain spiritualist circles).

After a few different task-resolution systems that all nevertheless make use of the same stats just in different ways (a curious common feature of most of Clash Bowley's games), and the NPC rules that include some decent random tables, we get to the section on technology. We get detailed explanation of some of the fantastic Victorian-science-derived technological marvels of this alternate present; including deep space drives (which work though ether turbines, arc engines, and mass drivers), ground-to-orbit systems through anti-mass, power systems (hydrogen fuel, light panels, supercapacitors, and the aforementioned anti-mass), etheric devices (like ether vortex reactors, which are huge machines that can create artificial elements to create wondrous materials that make some of the other tech possible), and psionic devices (like psionic lenses based on crystals that concentrate psychic abilities, psychic resonators that enhance the range of psionic powers, psionic noisemakers that annul psionic powers in a limited area, and pharmaceuticals that can enhance or quell psychic abilities).
There's also enhancement mechanical devices like the martian exoskeletons, one-way glass and transparent aluminium, martian flame guns and electroguns.  Of course, we also get long lists of more standard equipment.

There's also a large section on designing and using spaceships. These are built with points, and the build system is relatively complete, but maybe doesn't go into the level of detail as one might expect from the author of the In Harm's Way series.  There also aren't any pre-built templates, which guys like me (who have no interest in building starships from scratch) would likely find annoying.

The section on the solar system covers the main area of action in the game.  The outer planets froze over as (according to Victorian ideas of how solar systems worked) they came out of the warm band of life-sustainable heat while the Sun shrank away; only Jupiter's moons retained life because of the planet's own radiation.  As per scientific theories of the time, the area that now holds the asteroid belt was once a planet, that was destroyed in a war with the Martians.  As well as Jupiter's moons, Mars and Venus are the main inhabited planets; Mars having an old and decadent civilization as that planet slowly dies, while Venus is like earth would have been long in its own past, still in the "dinosaur era".
We get decent if short descriptions of these planets, complete with planetary maps; and rules governing the effects of different levels of gravitation.  The section on the non-earth planets covers about 18 pages.

In a lot of other games of this sort, I've found that the Earth is the one planet that gets neglected.  Space:1889 had details on Earth, but mainly in its Conklin's Atlas sourcebook.  Rocket Age likewise doesn't have almost any detail on the Earth.  But Lowell Was Right manages to do something really interesting here: we get a "geopolitics generator", where you can roll a random amount of randomly determined 'great powers' that run the world in this alternate present.  Among these are "Nazi Europe", the "Pan-Arab Union", "Imperial Manchu China", "Great Brazil" and many others (including "Mormon Zion"). The idea is that after rolling for the great powers, the GM should develop a 'relationship map' explaining how these powers in particular came to rule the world and how they interact with each other. To assist with this, the GM can roll decade by decade events for the defining events from the 1880s until the present and choose some cultural traits for each great power.

This is then followed up by a section that lets you randomly generate a Martian or Mercurian house, which includes a martian name table and a table on details on martian cities and martian hinterlands (and likewise for Mercurian equivalents). There are also random tables for Martian religions, and another for Earth Martian religions (which are usually based on ancient Earth cultures, as Martian humans were taken from Earth in the distant past).  You also get tables on Venusian City-States, castes, and cultural oddities; and then Galileani cities and Hinterlands.

So to conclude about this game;  I would say that "Lowell Was Right" has an unusual but interesting concept.  If you like weird kind of alternate-reality sci-fi games, you'll certainly find it worthwhile.  It is also probably the tightest design yet by Clash Bowley, who seems to be figuring out some tricks for making his character creation process more interesting and his systems smoother.  The Alternate-Earth generation system is great.

I doubt that before Lowell came along anyone was sitting around thinking to themselves "boy I wish I could have an RPG that is set in 2015 but in an alternate present where Victorian ideas about science turned out to be all correct".... except Clash Bowley himself, of course. Nevertheless, I bet a lot of gamers, if they find out what this game is about, will find it worth exploring.


Currently Smoking:  Italian Redbark + Image Latakia

Friday 12 June 2015

DCC Campaign Archive: The Bean-Thing From the Furry Bay

The PCs started this week's DCC session mourning the death of the Cyber Redneck (and by "mourning" I mean looting the corpse).  Shortly thereafter, they witnessed the return of Bytharion the Gender-indeterminate Wizard.  And immediately after that, the arrival of three new 0-level Hero-Newbs.  It was noted a strange curiosity that in this world, cannon-fodder always came in groups of three; an explanation was offered that it may have something to do with the Three Fates.

After that, the PCs:

-got acquainted with Nigel, the Religious Fantastic. Apparently, "Religious Fantastics" are a movement from a distant part of the world that are a kind of combination between devout followers of G.O.D. and Soccer Hooligans, sharing the 'good news' of the religious life and viciously clubbing anyone who doesn't listen.

-got a bit lost in the deepest recesses of the Tangled Wood (while still on a meandering route to Highbay).  Apparently, as one of their new arrivals to the party proved, professional Dung-gatherers are not particularly qualified by their career to serve as wilderness guides.

-nevertheless reached the River of Gems, which proved rather disappointing as it had long since been mined dry of any gems.

-recalled that the reason they were going to Highbay (also known as the "City of Stoners") was that Night had to obtain a Violet Lotus Shrubbery for the King of Elfland, without which she could never recover the ridiculous amount of Spellburn she'd spent on Agility.  She was effectively derped up, bumping into trees almost constantly as they traveled.

-found that even Night's hearing had apparently been gimped, as she'd completely failed to hear the arrival of an extremely elderly dwarf knight, who had apparently been on a geas-induced for these last 200 years of his life.

-watched as the elderly dwarf, with what seemed to be his dying breath, bequeathed his bag of magic beans to Night, to be planted at the shores of the Furry Bay, and with strict instructions that they be used for good and not for self-serving purposes in spite of the 'great power' these beans were said to grant.
-Also watched as the elderly dwarf seemed to not quite be dead yet, for quite some time.  His lingering ruining what would otherwise have been an intensely dramatic final moment.
-Likewise, watched as the dwarf cursed himself for giving away the Extremely Powerful Beans Not to Be Misused to the first party-member he met, rather than to the Azure Wizard who would be far more likely not to misuse them.

-finally nodded off after concluding that the elderly dwarf wasn't likely to actually die quite yet; only to wake the next morning to find nothing left of him but dust and his armor.

-discovered, and proceeded to mostly ignore, the fact that the detect magic spell registered the beans as not being from this plane.

-realized that the Second Sight spell, cast by Clerics through the somatic component of shaking their tablet while asking a question, was really just a "Magic 8-ball" App.

-managed to get themselves ambushed by a gang of Centaur slavers with Australian accents, all of whom were named Bruce.

-were to be taken to be sold as slaves to Lord Dread, of Castle Dread, who everyone, even the Centaurs, agree is a total asshole.

-bided their time for the right moment to try to get free, which came along the next day when the Centaurs got into a fight with a passing patrol of mutants from the town of Focks (which is routinely mispronounced, much to its inhabitants chagrin).

-ran into some trouble with their escape attempt when the Centaurs scared off the mutant militiamen a lot faster than anticipated, and most of the PCs hadn't even managed to get free of their bonds yet.

-saw Night the elf make the ultimately extremely unfortunate decision of eating all the magic beans, in the hope that they would grant her immense cosmic power.

(the beans were evil!!)

-watched Sandy and Bytharion get the living crap kicked out of them by the Centaurs, while Schul surrendered to them to avoid a similar beating.  However, Ack'Basha the Cleric saved the day by a very creative use of his Holy Sanctuary spell.

-Saw Night fly after the fleeing centaurs while the rest of the party was still freeing itself.  They did not see how when Night started to cast spells against the centaurs, she immediately started to mutate into a horrific derpy-fungus thing and fly off, no longer in control of her own body.

-decided to track the Centaurs first, and try finding Night later, not being aware of her horrific bean-related metamorphosis.

-plotted a careful night-time assault on the Centaurs, which immediately turned into a string of fumble and spell-misfire related disasters.  Suddenly Sandy couldn't manage to hit the broad-side of a barn, and Schul the rogue fell flat on his face in some centaur-droppings rather than skillfully backstab the person he was supposed to backstab.  Bytharion finally managed to save the day with his trademark gender-changing magic-missiles.

-decided to rest and recover from their fairly serious wounds that night, and put off searching for Night until the morning.  After all, how much difference could one more day make, right?

-woke up the next morning to find a 200-story tall Horrific Derpy-fungus thing emerging from the Furry Bay.

-Decided it was time to use G.O.D. to call up the Azure Wizards, since this was frankly beyond them.

-went with the entire High Council of the Azure Wizards to Highbay, where they found a mix of panic and business-as-usual, as about half of the population were apparently convinced that the colossal void-infected monstrosity that was slowly shambling toward their city was probably just a drug-induced hallucination.

-headed to the city offices, except for Schul who stopped off at the market to purchase a Violet Lotus Shrubbery.

-met once again with Chief City Officer Swanlee, who was pretty blase about the latest existential threat to his city, in spite of (or perhaps because of) his reputation for being the only stone-cold sober man in the whole town.

(he may just be the DCC version of this guy:)

-learned to their dismay that their friend Bolt-O the conversation robot, who had last been seen accepting a bureaucratic position in the city government, was not in town, but had in fact been kidnapped by the Orc mercenary Chief Omnblarg on the last occasion that Lord Dread had tried to besiege Highbay.  Omnblarg had since parted company with Lord Dread and overran and conquered the town of Badbreath.

-decided that the best plan was the one proposed by Leandra of the Azure Order, which would be for the Azure Wizards (including Bytharion) to make a massive group ritual-casting to try to petrify the monstrosity, while the others protected the wizards around their circle.

-began the ritual and quickly found themselves accosted by a trio of incomprehensible terrors from the void, who could eat magical energy and looked a little bit like transparent ducks covered in tentacles.

(they were scarier than the description sounds, what with ducks being evil to begin with)

-were about to start fighting these creatures, when the Derpy-fungus Kaiju only made things worse, by spitting out a toxic mist of hallucinogenic gas, instantly incapacitating half the party, including Sandy (their best fighter).

-watched in terror as the evil Tentacle-Ducks Man Was Not Meant to Know dug their tentacles into Leandra and sucked out her soul.

-were further horrified to find that ordinary weapons could not hurt the ducks.

-reached the limit of lovecraftian terror when the Derpy-fungus Kaiju shat out radioactive acid all over the bay area, likely ruining property values port-side.

-saw Ack'basha the cleric once more step up to almost save the day, blowing away most of the Cthulhu-Ducks with a particularly effective Turn Unholy.

-snatched victory from the jaws of failure when Schul the rogue, in an uncharacteristic display of valor, stepped up and managed to kill the last of the Cthulhu-ducks after borrowing the Hornet Mace from a drugged-out Sandy.

-breathed a sigh of relief as the Azure Wizards were then able to launch their spell, turning the Derpy-Fungus Kaiju into a gigantic statue, and about a kilometer of the now-poisoned bay into solid stone too, prompting City Officer Swanlee to note that this will require considerable and expensive infrastructure investment.

Sadly, if you haven't guessed by now, the monstrosity was none other than Night, transformed by the Dark One's evil beans into a horror, and now quite dead (although her possession of an Amulet of Protection from Death, though it did not do what she thought it would do, did turn out to allow her to live a relatively comfortable afterlife instead of having her memories washed away and being subject to an eternity of being poked with pitchforks).  The team also lost an erstwhile ally in the form of Leandra, the leader of the Azure Order. Next time, they'll probably be going to rescue Bolt-0, which should be fun.


Currently Smoking:  Dunhill Classic Series Rhodesian + C&D's Crowley's Best