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Sunday 30 August 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: The RPGPundit's "The Goggles do Nothing Law"

RPGPundit's "The Goggles Do Nothing" Law of Game-Mastering

Over at theRPGsite, I've gotten into an extensive debate with the Swine; apparently, they've decided to make what we could only optimistically hope is their last stand on that site over the subject of my hatred of R. Borgstrom's Nobilis game, and her writing in general.

Though really, I'm guessing it'll be far from their last stand. I've whupped their asses over and over again, but they never seem to tire of it. They always come back for more, like the good little gang of masochists they are. Trying and trying over and over again at something I know and they must certainly know by now is doomed to failure.

Speaking of which, that's the nature of the fight we're having.  The Monarda Law, which I've written a counter-law for (the "Rebecca Borgstrom is a Moron Law"), essentially states that a GM is forbidden from EVER saying "no" to his players.
Of course, this is so unplayable as to be utterly absurd, and is evidence of the hole in Borgstrom's head.
However, most of the Nobilis Swine try to reinterpret this law as meaning "you can say absolutely anything to your players, other than the literal word formed by the letters "n-o", including anything that essentially means no".
Which makes the law absolutely meaningless.

GrimGent, over on theRPGsite, has a very particular interpretation, his own little attempt to make the law palatable and useable and to defend it from reality.  In his parallel universe's version of things, the Monarda Law means "you have to let your players explore every possible action they want to take, you can't just say no "no that wouldn't work" to them; you must instead ask them "how would you do this", or "yes, but.." or "well, you could TRY".  The idea is again based on some kind alternative 60s-hippie child-education principle, that somehow kids will best learn if they are allowed to "explore their mistakes", that even if the teacher knows that 2+2 definitely doesn't equal 5, she should let the children "explore" their answer, and reason it out, rather than just saying "no, sorry, its 4" and going on. Because to do the latter would somehow "stymie the child's creativity" and "hurt the child's self-esteem".

Of course, I would say this is a king-rat stupid fucking idea even for children, put forth by a gang of marxist ruffians who wanted to destroy civilization.  But it's even more stupid when you consider that in RPGs, we're talking about fucking adults here.  There's no reason to allow adults to explore their fucking mistakes, if you know that what they're trying to do is doomed to failure. It's just a stupid idea, that wastes time, and gives your players faulty ideas about the world. And THAT; dear reader, is the true "cardinal sin" of the Game Master, not saying no to them as Becky Borgstrom alleges in her stupid Monarda Law.

So in honour of both Borgstrom and Grimgent, I have decided it's time for a new addition to RPGPundit's laws of no-nonsense game mastering.

The law is basically this:

The "The Goggles Do Nothing" Law
Anytime you already know that a possible GM-player interaction regarding a PC's desired action will lead to nothing, don't bother with it. You're only wasting your time, the player's, and everyone else's.  If you, as the GM, already realize that a particular plan can NOT work, then simply tell that to the player, instead of trying to create the "placebo" of giving the player the illusion that his intended action would somehow have a chance of succeeding.

There you go.
The Law's title is, of course, inspired by the famous quip in the Simpsons, where Ranier Wolfcastle is given a pair of plastic protective-goggles to protect against a rushing flood of acid.  Naturally, and obviously to anyone who saw the onrushing river of acid, the "goggles" were only a useless placebo.  Unfortunately, Wolfcastle only realizes this at the last second as he's being swept away by the current of acid, screaming "Arrgh, the Goggles do Nothing!" in his typical Arnie-accent.

It's the same with players.  If you, as a GM, insist on trying to "let them try" every single hairbrained idea a player has, because Borgstrom or some other second-rate game writer has told you so, you are only engaging in useless busywork that slows down the whole process of the game.  If you have to spend ten or twenty minutes spoonfeeding and handholding your players every time that they think up an idea you already realize as GM is doomed to failure, you are only taking up ten or twenty minutes of their lives and yours for no meaningful end.  And what's worse, you are telling them that they can't trust you with presenting them an accurate vision of their Player Character's perception of the world.

PCs depend on the GM to be their senses, the way the GM describes the world and their perception of the world is the only thing they've got.  So if the player is trying to shoot at something that the GM knows is too far out of range for him to possibly hit it, but the GM spends 15 minutes letting the Player "work it through" himself, all that does is tell the player that the GM can't be trusted to tell the player that his PC realizes a shot wouldn't hit.  The GM is reducing the player's PC to an idiot. For you see, thinking up an idiotic thought doesn't make one an idiot, its following through on that thought before/instead of being able to reason that it would not work, that's what makes one an idiot. And that's exactly what GrimGent's little scheme does to players. If you aren't going to use something like the Monarda Law to actually allow the players to define reality (which sucks for all kinds of other reasons), then using the Monarda Law at all, especially how GrimGent implies one should use it, only results in a smokescreen that turns your players into idiots because you fail in your duty as a GM to tell the players what they are or are not capable of doing.

Your player's aren't idiots, nor are they children, much less the sensitive spoilt children that Borgstrom or Grimgent would like you to think they are. They're grown-ups, they can handle being told "no".  It will usually, in my experience, push them to try another idea. Possibly a better one than the first idiocy that might spring to mind. Or, at the very least, it will lead the players to move on with things, rather than lingering, stuck in a moment, trying to accomplish something that you know they can't possibly accomplish.

So there you are, trust your players enough to say "no" to them.

I guess to some this sounds pretty radical, but its really just what great GMs have been doing for the last 30+ years. It'll certainly get you further than Borgstrom's pathetic mollycoddling philosophies, or Grimgent's poorly-thought-out interpretations thereof.


(originally posted november 17, 2006)

Friday 28 August 2015

DCC Campaign Update: All my Friends are Dead

This past session came as close to a TPK as our DCC campaign has ever seen. By the end of it, almost everyone was dead. How did this happen?

Like this:

1. The PCs started out in a monastery they decided (in a spurt of optimism) was not really an "Evil Monastery" so much as a "Good monastery that had made some bad choices" and fallen in with the wrong crowd.

2. They found their former accountant Serath had now become a Cleric.  He's a neutral cleric, which means he's not really into it but just treats it as a job.

3. Said Neutral Cleric was determined never to sacrifice gold for divine approval. He's more of a "prosperity Christianity" style of cleric.

4. The PCs slept in the monastery, but not before demonstrating a that they live a life of stunningly troubling paranoia.

5. Schul the rogue found three evil-looking black scrolls in the monastery library, in a skull-motif cabinet.  He decided "this doesn't really look evil at all"!

6. The PCs find an ominous looking hidden shrine to the Lord of Death.  The Neutral Cleric proceeds to use it as the bathroom.

7. They find another set of secret underground rooms, and start to realize that finding hidden doors is easier than assumed.

8. They start to get a bit too bored when the first underground rooms they find are exciting locales like the cloak room, pantry, and the monastery well-cistern.

9. They totally fail to spot, in their rush, the Mutant Sewer Octopus Thing in the cistern.  The Neutral Cleric barely survives, but his brain damage reduces him to a vegetable and it's time for a mercy kill.  Monastery 1, PCs 0.

10. They find an underground river, where a venerable old yogi has been meditating in perfect stillness for 12 years. Of course, they decide to poke him with the hallucinogenic staff until he's forced to break his trance just shy of achieving nirvana. 

11. They learn from the highly annoyed yogi that somewhere deep in the underground complex of the mountain below the monastery there is an Arch-Gate to the Qlippothic Netherword, as the monks call it; or as it is known to Clerics, the Recycle Bin.  If you can get through the Arch-gate, and get through all the insanely dangerous ordeals in the realm of death, you could theoretically try to resurrect a daemon that has been deleted.  The PCs immediately decide it might be a cool idea to resurrect Tiamat, in spite of the fact that they were peripherally involved with the selfsame dudes who betrayed and murdered her.

12. They go back up for a rest, and meet three newbies who were lost and made their way to the monastery gate. They're 2 mutants and a halfling; and the party debates whether that makes them "Two and a half-man" or "two and a half half-men". 

13. Ack'basha the Cleric immediately press-gangs them into the party.

14. Ack'basha also tries to sell the newcomers on joining his crusade to defeat Sezerkan and recover the Sacred USB Cable that would restore the world, and purge it of all the abominations... you know, abominations like mutants, and halflings.

15. Ack'basha also tries to convert the newcomers, and is thus reminded that all Halflings are New Atheists. And Cannibals. 

16. The PCs do note that this particular Halfling seems stunningly well versed in philosophy (albeit of the sophomoric 1st-year-philosophy-student variety) for a half-feral murderous savage.

17. They go back down into the dungeons, and almost immediately run into some really big hobgobins.  They assume that these are locals at first, but will eventually learn that these goblinoids are here because they too are looking for the Arch-Gate; to resurrect the daemon they worshipped.

18. They get into a rumble with these goblins, resulting the party getting the shit kicked out of them, killing the halfling and Mutant 2, and with most of the rest of the the party being captured. Monastery 3 PCs 0.

19. The captured PCs learn the tradition of how the goblins elect their replacement chief (the former chief having died in the fight); which consists of the two main candidates beating each other with rocks until one is left standing.

20. The goblins also run into the Yogi, who kicks the shit out of them with some powerful magic.

21. The remaining free PC manages to convince the Yogi to help, which he does by randomly summoning a trio of Religious Fantastics.  All named Nigel, of course.

22. The 3 Nigels' rescue attempt, consisting of charging straight at 20 goblins, proves disastrously ill-thought out. 

23. Ack'basha the cleric's attempt to use his cursed power rings doesn't work out as planned.

24. Ack'basha then remembers his powerful holy beads, which cause harm to any chaotic being they even touch, so he proceeds to gently carress his captors with it to surprisingly great effect.

25. Ack'basha then proceeds to cast a darkness spell in the surrounding area, and everything turns into a massive clusterfuck of a melee.

26. The rescue attempt having failed, Mutant 1 goes nuts, runs away, and then in a bout of murderous insanity tries to kill the Yogi with a canoe oar.

27. The Yogi survives, goes murderously insane too, and ends up beating Mutant 1 to death with a wooden begging bowl.  Monastery 4, PCs 0.

28. Ack'basha gets away, gets his armor on, goes back to the Goblin's base-camp, kicks the crap out of the goblins there, and takes their stuff.

29. The remaining goblins still in the dungeon find and finally kill the badly-wounded Yogi.

30. Schul the rogue, who had been hiding out, attacks the remaining goblins in a desperate attempt to recover all the party's stuff before they get away.  He kills the new chief with a very well placed two-handed Axe-backstab. Unfortunately, the rest of the goblins make their morale check and butcher him. Monastery 5, PCs 0.

31. The few surviving goblins decide to high-tail it out of the monastery and off the mountain.  Ack'basha the Cleric is literally the Last Man Standing.  Monastery 5, PCs 1.

It remains to be seen whether Ack'basha will be led by these tragic events to consider whether his blood-vendetta against Sezrekan is in some way responsible for the loss of all his friends and allies.  But my bet is on no. He'll probably figure out a way to blame it all on Sezrekan too.


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

Thursday 27 August 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: Uruguay's Coke Problem

You see, our wonderful trucker's union decided to go on strike.  Likewise, I believe, various unions related to beverage companies.  Essentially, that meant nothing was getting anywhere, because in this country its strictly prohibited to either break or get around (scab) a strike.

That meant no Coca-cola. And for a gang of hardcore Coke nuts like my gaming group, that could be disasterous. We are usually not just fanatics but connoisseurs; rather than buying the bigger plastic 1.5 or 2lt bottles, we prefer the 1Lt GLASS bottles (if you've never tried coke out of a glass bottle, you don't know what you're missing, there's a huge difference between that and plastic; or, god forbid, aluminum cans).

But by my Thursday game all that was left in the local supermarket was Fanta. So we were stuck drinking Nazi-cola. We bit the bullet and drank it, because we were taken by surprise and because there was really no alternative.

But now, Saturday, I go to the supermarket and all I see there is Diet Fanta.I shit you not. The drinks section, literally, had only some bottled water, the some 1Lt bottles of the poorest brand of uruguayan beer, and (for soft drinks) DIET FUCKING FANTA.
I mean, shit, I didn't even know that a "Diet Fanta" existed until know! It was a kind of dark knowledge I could have done without, let me tell you!

Not just that, but the fuckers had an ample supply, several dozen bottles spread around to try to fill the otherwise empty shelfspace. But of course they had plenty of that; I mean what kind of sick out of his mind fucker would drink DIET FANTA???

I mean, fucking hell... are you serious?! Who the fuck says "I want an uber-sugarry vaguely-organge flavour drink made completely and entirely out of artificial substances... but let's make it a light."
Sure, technically that kind of mockery could apply to any "diet" soft drink, and I basically find all of the concepts of "diet" soft drinks absurd (if you really want to watch your health, you wouldn't be drinking soda in the first place, diet or not), but it just seems particularly absurd with fucking Fanta!

Fuck that, I told myself. There are limits to every man, and this was mine. I would find Coke even if it kills me.
So I spend the next couple of hours trudging around to every little corner store, kiosk, everywhere I could find, trying to get my hands on some coke. Finally I found several bottles worth, including a couple of my precious 1Lt Glass bottles, in a bakery.  Possibly the last place in all of Montevideo where you could still get Coke legally.

Fucking goddamn unions.

And don't think that its just (admittedly) non-essential stuff like Coke that they're allowed to shut down. Oh no.
I mean, for fuck's sake, on Thursday the gas stations literally shut down because they had no more petrol to sell.  Apparently, neither the government nor the big oil companies nor anyone else was able or allowed to get someone to ship gas to a city of 1.5 million people.

Incidentally, some of  you might not be familiar with Uruguayan geography. Here's a little lesson: Uruguay has a series of river networks that are highly navigable, and a massive coastline that wraps around more than 2/3rds of the country.
It also is mostly flat land (there are barely any hills in Uruguay's pampas, and not a single mountain). You know, the sort of terrain that would be absolutely IDEAL for a railroad?

And yet, the entire country is held hostage to the whims of the fuckers in the Trucker's Union!  Why? Because over the course of decades they have made sure that no alternate method of shipping was ever allowed to survive or get off the ground, by the same kind of stronghand tactics that they are using now.

And they aren't the worst of this gang of syndicational fuckwits, not by far. You have no idea what the Public Employee's Union is like.  There isn't a politician, left, right or centre, that dares move a pinky against them.
Yes, I'm living in fucking Minrothad (reference for all you Mystara nuts).
This isn't a democracy, its a guildocracy.

I mean, how the fuck does this country have a military dictatorship for 11 years and NOT manage to break the backs of the unions??
(Well, I guess I must recall that this was the same military dictatorship to hold a rigged "referendum" election and LOSE it; so they weren't exactly the brightest junta in the bunch)

How the fuck have these gang of shitheads, who aren't left or right wing (though they often dress up in left-wing drag, when needed; even though in reality all they care about is their own power and fortune), managed to subvert the entire country and its best interests?

As usual, I'm sure they'll be getting whatever they want, moving Uruguay one step closer to economic ruin. But meanwhile, I have managed to raise my head high, and say that I beat their embargo.
Today, my players drink Coke.


(originally posted october 29, 2006)

Wednesday 26 August 2015

A big Dark Albion Review!

This one is from a guy who also did a game with the word "Albion" in it, so he knows some of what he's talking about when he praises my book's detail.

He doesn't like the Frogmen though, which I guess is his right, but really, what would be the point of making a super authentic 15th Century European setting from an English point of view if you can't make fun of the French?!

Anyways, go check it out!


Currently smoking:  Neerup Egg & Image Perique

Tuesday 25 August 2015

Everyjoe Tuesday: (airport) security vs. liberty edition

Today's Everyjoe article is about how you're going to have to live with a reality of an insecure world either way.  Just that one way, you won't also spend it being groped by a functional illiterate with government sanctioned authority.

Please share, plus one, retweet, etc. as always!


Currently Smoking:  Lorenzetti Poker & C&D's Crowley's Best

Monday 24 August 2015

On Past and Future Timelines in RPG Settings

Now that we're all living in Pundit's World, I think it's time to change a couple of things that have gotten my goat for quite a while.  Starting with how RPG settings handle timelines or chronologies.

See, it's one of the things I never understood about setting design either: making all the cool stuff happen before the PCs show up, or telling you a ton of stuff about what happened before but then providing no guidelines as to how the GM can manage what may happen next!

That's why both Arrows of Indra and Dark Albion have FUTURE timelines.  Albion has like two pages of "this is what happened in the setting before now" and like twenty of "this is stuff that could happen over the next 30 years of gameplay".

I think that's WAY more useful than 20 pages of backstory and no pages of what might happen.


currently smoking: dunhill shell diplomat & Solani Aged Burley

Sunday 23 August 2015

RPGPundit Reviews: Volant - Kingdoms of Air and Stone

This is a review of the RPG "Volant - Kingdoms of Air and Stone", written by Clash Bowley with Levi Kornelsen and Klaxon Bowley. It's published by Flying Mice Games.  I'm reviewing (as always) the print edition, which is a 275 page softcover, with a full-color cover depicting an image of some kind of flying castle-rock around which there's a fight going on between people riding on giant birds.  The interior is black and white, and features only very sparse illustrations, mostly at the start of chapters.

By the introductory description, Volant is a "game set on a world where a magical catastrophe has left humans without magic, settled on mountainous floating islands - called skylands - while the world below has descended into darkness and terror".  So, a bit like Waterworld only in the sky?  Anyways, the ground is inundated with monsters and barbaric savage humans, and all civilization is in the skylands, which vary from the size of a small village to some the size of entire mountain ranges as large as Belgium. If two skylands are kept in contact with each other for enough time they fuse together into a single larger skyland.  The stone that the skylands are made of is called "floatstone" and it can be made into flying vessels; but these cannot actually descend below a certain altitude, meaning you can't get down to the ground with them.

Aside from these, humans in the skylands also make use of giant birds, which they've trained as mounts.

The setting has a late medieval/early-renaissance tech level, and there's no magic (since it was all burned out in the magical-apocalypse).

Like many of the more recent Bowley games, the rules actually start with the concept of creating an "association".  That is, defining who the party is and why they are together. By random roll or selection, the group starts with a number of points ("capital") which they can then invest in a variety of group resources.  They also roll or choose the basic nature of their assocation; sample choices include things like "alchemical guild", "assassins", "courtier's henchmen", "extended family", "government agency", "mercenary company", "merchant traders", "political cabal", "religious cult", etc.
Resources include things like the home base (examples include palaces, clubhouses, port warehouses, theatres, a ship, cave, castle, abandoned farm, complex mountain lair, school, an oasis in the desert - are there deserts in the flying rocks? - or small to large skylands); guards and security, warships, spies, transport, medical assets, libraries of various sorts, training, soldiers, and artificers.

Character creation in this particular iteration of Bowley's standard system is based on either assigning a set of pre-set stats (boo!), or point-buy (BOO!!).  Sadly, no random generation here.  Characters then get another set of points, based on the starting age you choose to play the character: the older you are, the more points you get, with which to buy "professional templates" (a set of skills and bonuses that are focused on specific careers).  You can buy as many of these templates as you have points to spend, though some templates have pre-requisites. There are 96 different templates, so a fairly huge selection to choose from.  While I bemoan the lack of randomness, the template method is way more practical than just giving players a load of points and then having to spend hours and get the help of an accountant to work out what skills to buy.

There are also some helpful "template trees" that allow you to quickly reference what kind of templates you should purchase in order to follow a particular career-path ideally.

After this, there's an "optional" mechanic for group character-generation that seems so bizarre and so unlike anything I've seen that I suspect the hand of Levi Kornelsen in this. The mechanic seems like the typical gimmicky story-gamey stuff out of the forge. In brief, it involves using a deck of cards and having players play cards on each other while selecting templates, the cards forcing the player or players to do a variety of things: you can 'block' the player from being able to take a template, you can force a character to take a template, you can block a card someone else just played, or you can actually force everyone on the table to switch characters!  In theory the play of each card requires that the player also impose some kind of story-style 'backstory' that affects the character.

Obviously, my opinion is that this optional rule is garbage. I'm sorry, Clash, if you were the one who came up with it, but it's definitely not the kind of thing that belongs in a regular RPG.  Thankfully you made it clear that it's optional. 

As with most of Clash's systems, Volant has the curious quality of providing various different task resolution mechanics, ALL of which use the same stats but different rolling-methods. The Starpool system is a d20 dice pool system. Starnova uses a d6 pool.  Starzero uses a d6-d6 method.  And Starworm is apparently a variant of Levi Kornelsen's Ouroboros Engine, which itself descended from Starpool; thus it too uses a d20 dice pool system, but slightly differently from Starpool.  Of these, Starnova is described as the "grittiest", starzero as an "averaging mechanic", starpool is cautioned to "look more cinematic than it is", and starworm has the detail of having results that one can "buy off" or "buy into" (with all the storygaminess that implies).

Skills, regardless of system, work on pluses; as in Traveller a +0 is the default starting level of a skill. The skill is modified by the attribute that it relates to. For every five or more levels you have in a skill, you have a level of "mastery", each of which gives you a reroll attempt on a skill check.

As in some of Clash's other more recent games, he makes use of the mechanic of "traits".  These are point-buy here, and are useable to give bonuses to other actions when used, if the GM judges they are applicable to what is being attempted.  Example traits include things like "hot-tempered", "Pious", "Greedy", "Poker-faced", "Sly", "Sarcastic", or "Foul-mouthed". Traits can only be used a limited number of times, but if you use a trait in a negative fashion (that is, to your detriment instead of benefit) you get one trait point back.

There's also "Edges", which are free-floating bonuses. They are dependent on conditions (for example, "Shadow" as an edge would require that you be operating in the dark, or you could use your "Extreme Weather" edge in snowy conditions); and are used to re-roll a failed check.

Maneuvers are special combat feats, which you gain on the basis of age (this seems a bit odd to me, because it makes no career distinctions: a 32 year old knight and a 32 year old scholar will both have 3 combat maneuvers). There are shield maneuvers (like shield strike), sword maneuvers (like fast strike), staff maneuvers (like trip), team maneuvers(like turtle formation), bludgeoning maneuvers (like roundhouse), spear maneuvers (like lunge), axe maneuvers (like chop), fist maneuvers (like rope a dope), missile maneuvers (like chance flurry), or social maneuvers (which are still combat maneuvers, they involve things like tricking your opponent into leaving himself open, sympathy which can get bystanders to call for mercy on your behalf).

Some of these maneuvers seem vastly more easily applicable than others, and vastly more beneficial. Some of the same maneuvers are given for multiple weapons, but each must be taken separately (so having "chance flurry" with sword does not let you do a chance flurry with a missile weapon or vice-versa).

There are, as usual, some nice and very thorough equipment lists, and also the standard NPC section, which includes some quick-roll tables for NPC generation as well as a basic set of stat-blocks for default NPCs like a highwayman (skywayman?), assassin, ranger, soldier, etc.

Next we get to the part on Alchemy. As spell-type magic no longer exists in the setting, alchemy is a big deal. It involves the making of potions through the use of naturally-magical substances.  You get a step-by-step description of the processes involved, and based on the production there is a resulting 'strength' of the potion.  Potions can be used to effectively give you an "Edge" in a specific action, or to act as a poison, or for healing. There's an interesting apothecary-style list of typical potion bases, with descriptions of how thye're prepared and what they grant edges in. 

The section on "Skylands" has a set of mechanics for generating a random skyland, rolling for its size, number and type of resources, and then points to allocate for number of cities and their chief trade resources, cultural traits, and conditions. There's also random tables for government types, how rigid castes are, and cultural oddities of various kinds (economics, personal oddities, odd recreational activities, fashion, and taboos).  All in all, I'd say this section does quite a good job of letting you (mostly randomly) create a section of skyland, and that's certainly a plus from an old-school perspective.

After this we get a short set of micro-rules about how to do a negotiation. It seems a bit abstract and arbitrary to me.  Definitely not the kind of thing I care for much.

The section on religion establishes that religions vary wildly in the skylands, and that there's no definitive proof as to the correctness of any of them. 

Here, there are guidelines for designing religions which, rather than random rolls or point-buy, are based on choosing from a series of option-lists, for the type of deity involved, the interaction worshipers have with their faith, the hierarchy of the religion, its influence, taboos and obligations, places of worship, perspective in terms of tolerance vs. heresy, the duties of the faithful, paraphenalia used in worship, and overall theme of the religion (e.g. "punishment", "guilt", "love", "propriety", etc.). One can obviously choose more than one option in each list in some cases.  If you are acting in accord to the PC's own religion and against something that is contrary to the religion, you get an edge. If you are a strong believer (an undeviating fanatic) you get a double edge.  The GM must determine just what level of belief a PC has based on their actions. Any character who is a believer can ask for a miracle, once per campaign (a strong believer getting a second miracle per campaign).  The miracle should never violate the structure of the religion, nor need it be granted if the GM has an "insurmountable" reason not to do so.

Next we get into a description of the structure of the world, or rather, the skies of the world, including the great wind currents of the planet.  This is a short section of about three pages. It is followed by the section on Ship Creation, which is 12 pages counting the ship stat-sheet, and the section on Giant Bird Creation which is 21 pages including the bird stat sheet.  It seems odd that birds would get a larger section than flying ships, and that they can be 'created' at random in the mechanics. I can't say I really mind the latter because I love me a random generation table, but precisely here is a place where you'd think instead there was a set number of species of giant bird with reliable stats. Ship creation is point-buy of a sort, where you build based on the type of weight and crew allowance you want the ship to have. There's lots of fine rules on ship weapons, and ship speeds and maneuverability.  Bird creation is random, determining size, damage points, special abilities, flight capabilities, armor, and qualities like feathers, beaks or talons (its weapons, essentially), diet, intelligence and aggression, habitat, carrying capacity, etc.

The next 25 pages or so cover the aerial combat rules.  These are very detailed, and pretty much a combat micro-game in themselves. They are not dissimilar to the aerial combat mechanics we've seen from Clash in some of the In Harm's Way series, only with giant birds instead of sopwith camels.  Wargamers will find these really good; while non-wargamers who nevertheless like a good system will still find it simple enough to manage. Only people who prefer really abstract ultra-lite combat rules will have any kind of problem here.

The last two sections of the book are definitely the most interesting: "what is on the surface" and "creating monsters".  They both contain a set of random tables, the first for creating native tribes, and the second for random creatures.  There's also a list of reasons why anyone would ever bother going down to the (incredibly dangerous) surface. The random tribe table is not about "number appearing" or "treasure type", but instead contains stuff like "relation with 'bird people'", "distinctive belief", "cultural oddities", and "taboos & permissions".   Cultural oddities include stuff like : "odd gender roles", "sexual barter" or "body modification".  Taboos include things like "left-handers", "dancing" or "eating utensils" (as lists of stuff that is forbidden).  

The monster tables are a bit more conventional, being somewhat traveller-esque.

Finally, a kind of appendix of "examples" is presented, with some sample religions, sample nations, associations, birds, ships, and monsters.

So on the whole, I think that Volant is yet another sign of the increasing skill that Clash Bowley shows as a game designer.  In spite of some weird things, the overall feel of the setting is that of one of those weird science-fantasy worlds on the vein of Jorune (though not nearly as incomprehensible).  The subsystems aren't perfect but they show a lot more creativity than earlier works of Bowley's, and by including an aerial-combat subsystem he nevertheless keeps playing on his strengths. 

I don't know how many people are specifically looking for this kind of game, but there is a lot of stuff here that a GM could use for gonzo style D&D settings too. All in all, worth checking out. 


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

Saturday 22 August 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: The Pundit's Horror Tips

The Halloween RPG Tips Entry

Some general tips for running horror games:

1. Most important of all: never show more than the absolute minimum needed!  This is really the key to everything else; and I would take this on as a rule for general gaming.  Your player's imaginations can do WAY more for them than your descriptions. Show what you need to show to keep the game moving, or to create a certain ambiance, but let your players fill the rest in. Showing them hints of the terrible monster, or parts of it, is better than showing them the whole.

2. Making your PLAYERS be afraid is relatively hard, making them nervous is a lot easier.  And its the step on the road to making them scared. Even if you don't get to the latter, the former is a great substitute for a fun horror game.  On that note:

3. The hint of gore is better than gore itself. This rule applies up to a certain point; at some moment you might want to just have explosions of blood or people whose chests have been opened up, but in general leave the fountains of blood to WFRP.  If you're playing a real horror game, implying something gory is better than showing something gory. Hints of blood, old stains, a single blood-stained knife or shirt, but no body is a hell of a lot more nerve-wracking than a big bloody corpse.

4. Take the mundane and make it unpredictable. One of the key elements of a good horror story is to have something that is utterly mundane and make that creepy.  Creating atsmophere with abandoned churches or old musty libraries is great, but its as good or better to find ways to make ice-cream parlours or dogs or grandparents or underwear end up creepy is often better because it hits you out of left field. Its also good if you make a point of noting certain very mundane things that appear repeatedly (black dogs, or slightly creepy little children, or old ladies) but they don't actually have anything to do with the menace at all. Red Herrings are a classic tool of the horror GM.

5. In many games, incidental creepiness is a great touch.  Having a dude who doesn't do anything, but is always around when the terror strikes; or having a prophetic newspaper article, or moments where reality appears to have been altered (a book that you read once is different on a second reading, someone who you talked extensively with yesterday doesn't recognize you today, etc etc.) are great ways to create nervousness.

6. Conspiracies can be creepy. The lack of conspiracies can be creepier.  Running a campaign where the big government organization or the group of shadowy people in positions of power are NOT in control of the situation can be the twist that leads to real desperation for your group.

7. When in doubt, having something with tentacles show up is always a good thing.

8. Nothing creates tension more than having a helpful and significant NPC die a sudden and violent death; except having a PC die a sudden and violent death.  This is even better if the death doesn't appear to have anything to do with the mysterious horror the PCs are pursuing.

9. Like with any other RPG, you as the GM do not have to have everything figured out beforehand; you just have to be quick-witted enough to make it LOOK like you had everything figured out beforehand.  The best games are usually not the ones you planned every step out in advance for (in fact, these often suck because the temptation to railroad is too strong), but rather the ones that you can quickly incorporate unexpected actions by the PCs to create the appearance that said actions fit into your overall plan in the first place.

10. Give the characters something very personal to lose in the supernatural menace that they face, beyond their lives. Or, something very personal to gain.

11. It always helps if at least one of the player is slowly gradually losing his humanity in some way.  A lot of the best Cthulu games I've run have had characters gaining power at the cost of their humanity, or their self-control, or their internal organs.

12.Making the confrontation with the terrible menace from beyond require finding out that its hidden in darkest Africa/peru/mayan ruins/Egypt/antarctica, is not as good as making the PCs go all the way to one or more of these places, only to find out that the real menace is hiding out in plain site in Milwaukee.  Or better, if Milwaukee doesn't really exist.

13. When in doubt, having a bunch of guys in dark suits show up wielding shiny golden swords and start trying to kill everyone in sight is always a good thing.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Canadian & Image latakia

(Originally posted October 31, 2006)

Friday 21 August 2015

The Americanism of D&D and the Gonzo Aesthetic

It isn't a new subject, in fact I've brought it up a few times in the past, but a recent essay that is really quite good addresses the issue of how D&D, in terms of its setting and ambiance, is fundamentally an American invention (written by a gamer who started to understand D&D better after visiting America for the first time in 30 years of being a gamer).  The default "world" of D&D is full of americanisms.  It isn't really, in that default state, "European fantasy"; it is rather very much 'American Fantasy'.  It is only Europe as hollywood imagined it.

There's another important point: D&D in its origins is Gonzo.  It was in fact invented around the same time that this very particularly American version of magical realism came to exist as a literary form of its own.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the seminal Gonzo novel, was published in 1971. D&D came into being in '74, after a process of many years of protodevelopment.  Whether or not Gygax, Arneson and co. had ever read Hunter S. Thompson, the vibe of Gonzo was everywhere at that time, and had created big effects on the general culture (while today, Gonzo has become so normalized in American popular culture that we pretty much no longer distinguish it except for in its most blatantly exaggerated forms).

One big part of why D&D is so American is because it is so Gonzo.  The weirdness of Gonzo is a thoroughly American weirdness, very different from the weirdness of, say, Alejandro Jodorowsky and what the latter did to comics and scifi aesthetics in Europe and Latin America.

What this means, however, is that it is relatively easy to Deamericanize D&D, by shifting out of the gonzo aesthetic (plus by adding a bit more historical and cultural rigor).

In the linked essay, the author suggests that maybe D&D is better when it's not trying to be more "historical" (rather than American pseudohistorical).  Obviously, I disagree.  Dark Albion lets you recreate D&D in a new and exciting way.  The shifting out of Gonzo and into a grittier and more factual kind of historical reality let's you explore all kinds of worlds in D&D that the Americanized version does not.  Consider, for example, the very big significance of Social Class in the Dark Albion setting, and it's almost apparently meaninglessness in most (Americanized) D&D settings.  That total sense of ignorance of Class is a very American feature in general (dating back long before gonzo, of course); and putting class consciousness back into the game changes the dynamics of setting completely.

I think what all this does mean is that within the confines of the OSR boundary markers alone, we have only just barely begun to scratch the surface of what you can really do with D&D.  So much of the game so far has been looking at it from a strictly American lens.  Far from just assuming that will be the best way to do it, I think now we can really start to explore how the game becomes new and exciting in totally unexpected ways when you have designers creating worlds that shift out of that cultural context and are informed by different ones than the game's creators could have envisioned.


Currently Smoking:  Neerup Poker & Brebbia no.7

Thursday 20 August 2015

Real Magick ON RPGs: I Got my Albion Softcovers... Sort of.

On the evening before I left home, I found a note from the postman:  there was a package waiting for me.  I was pretty sure it was the Dark Albion softcovers from Amazon that I'd been waiting for.

This was a problem.  I knew for sure that if I didn't pick them up somehow, it would be impossible that they'd still be around in a month's time.  The Uruguayan postal service just doesn't work that way.
Unfortuntely, to get someone else to pick it up, I'd need to fill out an authorization sheet, with their ID number, AND leave them a photocopy of my own ID card.

Here was the problem:  it was 7pm when I got the notice.  Every conceivable place that might have a photocopier was closed.  Furthermore, I was about to go to a Masonic meeting I couldn't avoid, which would last until about 1am, and then hightailing it out of town the next morning at 6.45am, long before any of the aforementioned photocopier places might open.  Such are the complexity of living in a latinamerican country.

So, I quickly messaged the friend of mine who would be watching the house, and got his ID, and filled out the form.  Knowing it was a longshot beyond that, I quickly did an invocation of my own augoeides, or tutelary spirit (what is often called the "Holy Guardian Angel" or "HGA" in modern magick).  Having invoked, I then shifted myself into the astral plane, creating a mental image of the area that I was about to go to, the neighbourhood around my Lodge. My goal was to see if there was any direction, indication, of anything within about a 2 block radius that would be open and have a photocopier (a highly unlikely prospect).  I immediately got a sense of the spot one bus stop beyond my regular stop to go to Lodge.

So off I went. I knew there was in fact a grocery store there, but was absolutely certain (having gone often) that they had no photocopier.  As far as I recalled there was no other shop there except a florists, and certainly nothing that would give me cause to have any expectation of a postiive outcome.
So when I got off the bus, I look over at the opposite corner and see that there is in fact a very small kiosk (the sort of place that sells cigarettes, cookies, only very basic stuff).  It seemed impossible to me that this place, that I'd never stepped into, would have a photocopier, but it was really the only credible chance.  And in spite of having never even merited my notice before now, the moment I stepped off the bus the corner kiosk seemed to jump to my attention, as though astrally illuminated.

I stepped in, finding the usual (fairly meager) selection of basic necessities this kind of third world answer to the convenience store tends to have:  newspapers, some sweets, flasks of booze, a small fridge with cold drinks, nothing fancy.  There was a young woman at the counter; I asked her "this may sound really strange but do you by ANY strange chance have a photocopier?"

I swear to Christ this next bit happened exactly this way: the young lady grinned as if overjoyed that I had asked, saying "why yes we do!" and she stepped out of the way, waving her hand the way a game show presenter might when Pat Sajak just told you that you'd won a new car, and there right behind her counter there was an apparently pristine small size photocopier.  It was as if years ago on some whim the shop owner had thought it would be a great investment for his little shop to have, only to have had it laying there untouched since that time because who in their right mind would even imagine a corner kiosk like this one would have a photocopier? 

So there you have it.  I got my photocopies, left them at the house for my friend with my authorization for him to pick my mail up, and headed off into the sunset (actually, the sunrise, but whatever).

And today, my housesitting friend sent me this:

Magick, baby!


Currently smoking: Lorenzetti Poker & Image Latakia

Wednesday 19 August 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: How Swine Control Language In RPG Debate and Other Subjects

Who Says Only Bad Things Come Out of  Theory Sites?

From a link someone had put up to a story-games site discussion, I found this little summary, from a guy named Rob Donoghue,  that does a great job of summing up the key rhetorical tactics of the Theory crowd, in other words, the dirty tricks that they bank on in order to try to control all conversation and avoid having to be challenged on the fact that all the foundations of their theories are shit:

The parts in Italics are Rob's, with my commentary added for flavour.

1. Referencing extensive, obscure source material and refusing discussion until that has been absorbed, thus creating a barrier of entry and elevating the status of the source material artificially.

i.e. The standard Ron Edwards tactic of "I could answer that question, but before I can, you don't know enough about theory, so you will have to read these four 75-page essays of mine; if you don't want to, then you're obviously not worth my time".

2.Using difficult to penetrate jargon, and dwelling on definitions rather than touching upon the point, thus deflecting legitimate questions.

Ie. talking about "storytivism" as though everyone accepts what it is, and then if someone criticizes "storytivism", you start arguing that they don't really understand the definition of "storytivism".

3. Establishing definitions and then declaring any discussion of the definitions to be inappropriate, because the definition is 'clear,' ignoring whether or not it is appropriate.

In other words, telling people that "Indie", or "story", or "broken" means whatever you want it to mean, and then complaining if someone tries to "shift" that definition, like by pointing out how technically RIFTS is an Indie game, or how most people believe stories aren't something that always have to address a specific theme in the form of a question about stakes, or other such bullshit.

4.Declaring that any argument about theory has "already been had" and, if pressed, referring back to that extensive, obscure source material, thus dodging legitimate questions perpetually.

Again, classic Forge.  To the point that they have now closed the theory forum, effectively declaring that the GNS theory as its stands is no longer debateable.  That's not theory, folks, that's dogma.

5. Lantern hanging, which is to say, framing the weakest part of your argument in the premise and establishing debate about a secondary point, forcing participants to either concede the premise or refuse to participate, which may or may not be desirable depending on the secondary point.

This is what theorists constantly do in other gaming fora, fora that aren't by their vary nature favorable to theorism by default.  They come in, and start making "[theory]" threads where they argue about some little detail within the theory spectrum, and in doing so already take as an absolute given all the rest of the flimsy theory foundations, forcing others to do so as well.  You can't argue about narrativism itself if the argument is about how narrativism would deal with Battlestar Galactica; at least not without being accused of derailing the conversation and being a troll.  See how it works? Before you know it, everyone is forced to frame all arguments from the basis that "GNS is right".

I'll finish with Rob's parting words, because they too are good:

My response to these tactics, and others like them, remains the same across politics, religion, gaming and many other fields. These are, in short, warning signs that the other party is not looking for debate, but rather is looking to spread the "good word".

In other words, Theory is cultlike, not a science.


(Originally Posted October 15, 2006)

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Pictures From Uruguay IX

Some melancholy pictures of Uruguay as I momentarily depart it:

The mortgage bank of Uruguay.

A fairly ugly apartment building.

The doorway of the same building.  Most buildings in Uruguay have unusual names.  This one is the Tucan Building.

This is the front entrance to the one decent occult bookstore in town. Note the over-the-top esoteric facade, complete with the Qabalistic Tree of Life and everything.

And then the two things I'll be missing most while I'm out:


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

Monday 17 August 2015

A Notice to My Readers

I only have time today to post a brief notice:  for much of the next month or so I'm going to be on retreat, and will not be regularly updating this blog.

So, if you don't see the usual daily blog entries here for the next while don't be surprised.  Even so, there should be updates every few days, including some play reports for DCC I haven't posted yet, a couple of reviews, Everyjoe updates, and more Dark Albion stuff.

See y'all on the other side.


Currently Smoking: Stanwell deluxe + Image Perique

Sunday 16 August 2015

Amazing Reviews of Dark Albion in Print and Video!

Imagine my surprise and exultation at finding that today there was not one, but two detailed and awesome positive reviews of Dark Albion, from noteworthy RPG sources.

First, we have a glowing review from James Spahn. The James Spahn, the author of the best-selling White Star OSR game. Apparently, James had in mind to write an OSR game related to the War of the Roses himself, only to give up on that once he saw Albion.  That's how great Albion is.  All might not be lost, though; wouldn't it be cool if we could convince Spahn to write some Dark Albion adventures?  Go bug him about it!

How much does he like it? Well, you should go read his review for yourself, but if hearing that it was awesome enough for James Spahn to decide to shelve his own plans for a similar product isn't enough, consider this quote from the review: "Dark Albion is one of the best products I've purchased this year, if not the past five."

That's pretty high praise, when you think about all the stuff the OSR has done in the last five years.

But that's not all!  Today we also saw a lengthy and fantastic flip-through video review produced by Samwise Seven, whose RPG blog has been very popular of late.

Check it out:

This is pretty much as close as you could get to seeing just about everything that Albion has to offer before buying it.  If you had doubts about just what's in Albion, get to viewing and get a clear picture.

So, thanks to both James Spahn and Samwise for the awesome reviews!


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

Saturday 15 August 2015

The Real Reason I Don't Work for Wizards of the Coast

So a couple of things happened in the last couple of days, not connected to each other as such but that I found a connection to.  The first is that I've been reposting some of my archived blog entries over on my Pundit's Forum in theRPGsite.  Specifically, the ones from about a year ago when "consultantgate" was happening.

As a result of this some people, some of them well meaning and perhaps some of them snidely, were remarking that my ongoing condemnation of the Pseudo-Activist Outrage Brigade for what they did during Consultantgate was justifiable because "due to consultantgate the RPGPundit might never work for WoTC again".

The second thing that happened is that a minor brouhaha erupted when Ryan Macklin posted a list of advice for would-be writers for Paizo.  Said advice included tips like "don't be too clever or you'll intimidate your potential employers", and "don't make stuff so smart that you'd never actually see it in a (paizo) publication".  And understand, he wasn't being critical of the company, or joking; Ryan Macklin was the staff editor for Paizo from 2012 to 2015. He was being dead serious.

A lot of people got pissed off at him for it. But you know, Ryan Macklin is absolutely totally 100% right.

Which brings us back to Consultantgate.

The thing is, I never expected to have a WoTC gig to begin with (I admit, I didn't expect them to be that smart), I didn't expect to be taken on as a consultant, and when I took on the consulting job for 5e I had no intention of ever working for WoTC in the future. Note: not after gamergate, not after the consulting job was done, but right from the very start.

I never had any plan to ask for any WoTC job after the 5e consulting, and had Consultantgate not happened I wouldn't have had any expectation of doing any future work for WoTC. Any future offer of work would have to have met some very specific circumstances for me to be interested. The fact is, I never saw myself (nor do I see myself in the future) wanting to write an adventure module or mechanics book where whatever I would have to fit very strict criteria of design that are not my own. I want to spend my time making games and settings exactly the way I want to make them, not the way the WoTC corporate board thinks would be most profitable to be made. It's not what I'm into.

So Consultantgate really sucked for a number of reasons, but the notion that "I might never be hired by WoTC again" is not one of them, because I never had any plans of being hired by WoTC again. Not that I would categorically rule it out completely, but it would have to be very special circumstances that granted me a latitude that just wouldn't be very typical for WoTC to grant anyone.

I had no assumption of working for them again, at no point did I express any such expectation to WoTC, nor did WoTC or Mike Mearls at any time make any kind of suggestion that they would hire me again; and I suspect that Mike Mearls (who has been a reader of my blog from Year One) knows me well enough to know that even if he wanted to make such an offer it couldn't possibly be to write some adventure module under the careful control and supervision of Wizards' executives.

Ryan Macklin is absolutely right: if you want to be a writer for Paizo OR WoTC, you need to be willing to do work that will be less clever, less original, and that cannot in any way intimidate the suits.   My RPG-writing is way too interesting to be able to feel comfortable to the top brass at WoTC (or Paizo for that matter). My methods, and the stuff I produce, would not tick the list of boxes of what they want, of middle-of-the-road products that are broad enough to be enjoyed by everyone without making things difficult for anyone to use.  Not just me, mind you, that applies to a lot of the independent OSR designers (and a few non-OSR designers too).  Note also that I'm not in any way saying that WoTC or Paizo's products are bad products. Not at all, just that they are products made with a corporate mindset of being the most efficiently broad-spectrum and generic enough for the mass audience.

Consultantgate sucked ass because people made up vicious lies about me, and did so with the intention of harming my career. But Consultantgate didn't affect my relationship with Wizards of the Coast in any way, shape or form.  They were completely impotent in that regard, because I had already finished my work for WoTC before Consultantgate ever started, and had no expectation whatsoever of working for them in the future.

And really, why would I ever need to?  Lords of Olympus, Arrows of Indra, and now Dark Albion have all been big successes for me, and all of them were me writing exactly what I wanted to write, on my own terms.  My consultancy with WoTC was a dream job because it was precisely because of this differentness from their typical employee and absolute refusal to compromise anything that I was perfect for the Consulting job.  Mearls knew I would pull no punches.

And really, in spite of the total shittiness of what the Outrage Brigade did during Consultantgate, they lost.
D&D has become exactly what I said it should become.  The OSR has become exactly what I said it should become.  Nothing anyone does now is going to change any of that. They're mine now.
You are all living in Pundit's World now, and it's working, and it's beautiful.


Currently Smoking:  Italian Redbark + H&H's Beverwyck

Friday 14 August 2015

Famous Pipe Smokers

Today's famous pipe smoker was incredibly famous for smoking a pipe.  In fact it's safe to say that for a while he was the most famous pipe smoker... in the world.

Oh, yeah, he may also have been known for being the most recorded voice in human history, even to this day.

No Youtuber has yet to beat Bing Crosby.  And he was about a hell of a lot more than White Christmas. At least at one point in his career, a lot of what he did was surprisingly innovative.  In terms of how people sang in our culture, it can be divided into a "Before Bing Crosby" (when everyone was all stiff and loud and very  controlled and formal), and after Bing Crosby.  Before there was a Michael Jackson, or a Beatles, or an Elvis, or a Frank Sinatra, there was Bing Crosby: the first guy to figure out how music in the 20th century was going to work.

If something like this doesn't seem very radical to you:

That's only because today EVERYONE does the things Bing was the first to do. Before Crosby, there was no one who would put that kind of loose swinging casualness into singing. No one would move with the rhythm.  No one understood what the invention of things like microphones and film could allow a musician to do that couldn't have been done in the age of unassisted music-hall.

And yes, the crooner was a pipe-smoker.


Currently Smoking:

Thursday 13 August 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: Ideological Themes in RPGs

I could write about a lot of stuff today; I could, for example, dedicate an entire entry to how beautiful it is here today (a lovely 28ยบ Celsius).

Or I could write about the fact that around here, mother's day is in October. And more bizarrely, about the fact that I've seen a disturbing number of TV and print ads where mothers and their young sons are portrayed in a boyfriend/girlfriend type context (one where a kid takes his mom out on a "date" and the ad describes mothers as "your first girlfriend"; and a number of others that generally seem to portray a kind of romantic connotation to mother/son love). It's a freaked out cultural phenomenon here that I just don't see in north america. You know, Argentina (where most of these ads originate) is said to have the largest ratio of psychologists per capita in the world; this explains a lot. It's an entire fucking country suffering from Oedipal complex.

But in fact, this is first and foremost a gaming blog, so I'm going to talk about a gaming subject. Namely, something that has been on my mind as a consequence of a thread that was on theRPGsite, talking about political agendas in RPGs.

My feeling is summed up like this: there's three different kinds of games that can be run. The first is essentially modern mythology. This is where you present an absolute good and absolute evil, in the Tolkienesque sense, where what you're doing isn't really politics, it's religion. Or more correctly, it's legend. You are talking about the classic and epic construction of humanity's struggle against the dark side, civilization versus barbarie, and (usually metaphorically) man versus his own dark side.
In these kinds of games, it's a very bad idea to mix in any kind of more relativistic political message; or to try to turn the "evil" into a metaphor for a modern ideological issue. "Bad" in the sense that more often than not, this will be heavy-handed and add little or nothing to the enjoyment of the experience.

The second kind of game is a game that is your standard emulation of a historical or pseudo-historical setting meant to convey the depth of "authenticity". Like I said in the RPGsite thread, to impose modern issues on those kinds of games is usually going to be jarring and generate a situation of disbelief. Sometimes you can pull it of in a comparative sense (i.e. comparing the Tulipmania of early modern Holland to the tech stock bubble of the 1990s, or something like that). Unless, of course, you're playing a modern game, in which case you do want to use modern ideological issues.

Now, all of you who've read this blog regularly know that I'm a fairly political beast, though it's hard to pin me down as partisan to one end of the spectrum or another. Some have described me as a Classic Liberal, which is as good a term as any. But I will note this: generally speaking, I think it's a bad idea to present the issues in these games in a way that's black/white. Because now, we're not talking mythology, we're talking emulation or if you like, "realism". And reality can be messy. I may want to make a game that presents modern day right-wing politics as dirty, but what I do NOT want to do is create a modern day game where right-wingers are uncomplicatedly mustache-twirlingly evil, or where a player could not play a right-winger in such a way that he could be a relatively complex character.

Why? It's not out of some kind of sense of fairness, it's just because it makes for a better game. Just like it makes for a better game if your pseudo-tolkienesque campaign doesn't have likable villains, it makes for a better game if your non-tolkienesque non-mythological game has profound and complex characters on both sides. It doesn't mean that your every villain has to have likable qualities or be an excusable victim of society ("I'm not really evil!! Its just that I'm an Argentinian with confused feelings about my mom!"). It DOES mean that your villains in this kind of campaign should be doing things for more reasons than just because they're irredeemably eeeeeevil (an excuse that, on the other hand, is perfectly valid in a mythological game), and that in many if not most cases they should be doing the things they do because in some way or another they either believe that they're the good guys or that what they're doing is justifiably right.

In a lot of cases, when you feel strongly about an issue, it's very difficult to understand what motivates the other side, and the temptation is to present them as knowingly and willingly wicked with no good excuse besides being psychopaths. While there's no problem with the occasional psychopath in this kind of game, if ALL of the "other side" are just malevolent bastards, then the game you run is likely to be pretty shallow and ultimately unappealing.

Fundamentally, both the Forgotten Realms and Blue Rose tend to champion certain left-wing social causes and present a certain kind of left-wing ideology. But Blue Rose is far less playable, and far easier to condemn. Its authors mistakenly took that to mean that gamers are all right-wing bastards who disagree with the politics of the game and hate it for that reason. This isn't true, not even of me. There's a ton of nanny-statism in FR too, as well as other ideological themes like gender and sexual identity themes that also appeared in BR and caused controversy; but the difference is that in FR these issues tend to be presented in the context of a larger and more complex game world and without the absolutist proselytizing that you see in BR, where EVERYONE who disagrees with the fundamental ideology of the designers is either evil or stupid. The issues wasn't with the positions that the designers took, it was with the way that they framed those positions in the game and the setting, in such a way that it made the game more unidimensional and unplayable.

There is a third type of game, and this is one where you can get away with having a political issue and painting it in more hyperbolic/absolute terms; and that's the comedic game. Paranoia was originally a biting satire of Reagan-era cold war politics and right-wing propaganda-mongering; in the modern day it can easily be presented as a scathing satire of the Bush administration. With a comedic game you can be far more free to paint things in this kind of absolute tone, as long as you keep the primary emphasis on the funny. Like all political humour, the key to the difference between whether a comedic RPG campaign will be good or will suck ass is whether the comedy is key above and beyond the message or whether the comedy is just a thin veil for pounding the message like a sledgehammer over your player's heads.

Comment away.


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

(Originally posted October 9th, 2006)

Wednesday 12 August 2015

The First Dark Albion Adventure is Here, And It's Awesome

Yes, there's an adventure out for Dark Albion.  It's called "The Ghost of Jack Cade on London Bridge", and it's an adventure for low-level characters, playable with pretty much any OSR system (and modifiable to games like D&D 5e).

It's cooler than just an adventure, though. It's also a micro-setting of maybe the most curious little neighbourhood of London: London Bridge itself.  You see, in the 15th century, London Bridge didn't look like what it looks like today, it wasn't just a big open-air bridge you'd walk or drive across. It was covered in buildings, shops, and potentially all kinds of especially curious characters.  And that's what you get here, along with an occult conspiracy of sorts, that I don't want to get too much into in order not to spoil it.

The adventure was written by Dominique Crouzet, with a bit of advice here and there for yours truly.  And if you clicked the link above (if you haven't, do so!) you'll see its very affordable, in either Print or PDF.
And for $5.95 for the Print and PDF option, that's one hell of a deal for any 22 page adventure, much less this one.  It totally comes with the RPGPundit seal of approval!


Currently Smoking:  Neerup Egg + Image Perique

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Everyjoe Tuesday: Are Liberals Really Better at Comedy?

So, in today's Everyjoe article I assess the claim, so commonly pushed by liberals, that liberals are better at comedy than conservatives.

I'll give you this: Collectivists thinking they're funny is very funny.


Currently Smoking:  Lornzetti Poker + Gawith's Virginia Flake

Monday 10 August 2015

Dark Albion Q&A Thread

So over on theRPGsite, I've started up a Dark Albion Q&A thread.  Even though we've already seen a lot of Albion info lately, this is mainly for those of you who have now got your PDFs or your books have finally arrive, and you're looking through it and might have questions about the setting, mechanics, OSR-adaptation, or the Appendix P rules.

Likewise, if you don't own it yet, and have a question about it you haven't seen an answer for yet, please feel free to ask as well.

If you aren't on theRPGsite and really don't want to join (but why wouldn't you?! It's great!) you can also post your questions here and they'll be answered on the thread.


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

Sunday 9 August 2015

Traveller Campaign Update: Zombie Apocalypse Edition

This session began with the face-off between Grandfather and The Master, and to the surprise of the PCs, Grandpa lost. In fact, he appeared to get his ass kicked, his whole planet-city being blown to smithereens and the PCs just barely managing to get out in an emergency teleport with the help of a K-9 unit that was subsequently destroyed in the attempt.

Where did they end up? More or less here:

The PCs were aliens in a early-20th-century-tech rustic world, and worse still they realized that the only way out and back to their own universe was from a teleportation gate in orbit around a world that seemed to have no space vehicles.  Also, humans here are the peasant caste in a society ruled by the Droyne.

The K-9 had given them a hint that Grandfather had at least one 'agent' on this world, somewhere, but destructed before any more details could be given, and there were no clues to follow.

At this point, the Players figured that they were playing this:

With themselves as the little green men.

The PCs reacted to this in different ways. A couple of them wanted to high-tail it out of there by any means necessary. A couple wanted to reveal their alien identity in a society that was almost certain not to be able to handle it. One of them was this close to saying 'fuck it' and joining John Boy on the farm.
And one guy just snapped and pretty much turned into this guy:

Up to an including completely screwing up a meeting with a Droyne dissident who also happens to be one of the planet's greatest rocket scientists and (it turns out) actually has a primitive space rocket.  Stone age technology by the PCs' standards, but it might just get them through that stargate. Which is becoming all the more important, given that the PCs have now learned that with Grandfather dead, it seems his pocket universe is slowly collapsing.

In spite of the Chang among them, the PCs finally manage to win over the scientist, only to discover that they're actually not playing a session of "Roswell" at all, but rather they're in the middle of the start of this:

Only instead of zombie humans, it's Zombie Droyne they have to worry about.

Just when things seemed to be at their worst, and the PCs were stuck in a very "Walking Dead" kind of scenario of facing a horde of zombie-insect-aliens, they were found by Grandfather's "agent", and he was pretty much this guy:

(complete with cyborg bits, giant guns and "come wit me if you wahnt to live!")

So there was a glimmer of hope. Surely with Arnie's help, they could get out of the zombie infested capital city and to the distant location of the one space rocket on the planet.  Things were looking a bit better; they couldn't really get much worse, after all.

Then this happened:

Yes, if Zombies weren't enough, it seems the Master survived his battle with Grandfather, and now he's raining down Daleks over the zombie-infested doomed world.

Will the PCs get out in time?  We'll find out next session.


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

Saturday 8 August 2015

Everyjoe Saturday?!

Technically, it should be "Everyjoe Friday", but my article was approved after I had already posted my blog for yesterday.

So, in a special extra edition of Urbanski On the Campaign Trail '16, I wrote an article yesterday about the Republican debates.  In essence, about how Fox's debate screwed over Rand Paul, and he also screwed himself over.

Go check it out, read it, share your comments, enjoy the rampant Trump-mocking.


Currently Smoking:  Raleigh Hawkbill + Image Perique

Friday 7 August 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: the Catch-22 of Superhero Settings

Settings: one of the critical things that constitutes yet another "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenarios for Supers RPGs is the question of settings.

If your setting is something like the Legion (supers, but in the far future or not on earth), or the "first supers of the world", or something along those lines, then you have a built-in cop-out. But otherwise, as a supers DM you'd have three options:
1. Use an existing "comic" universe: DC, Marvel, etc.
2. Create your own generic "comic" universe, that is basically anything between inspired-by all the way to "blatant rip-off of" the DC/Marvel type universe.
3. Create your own comic universe but one that is radically different from the existing ones.

If you choose number 1; you have the problem that your heroes will always feel like second stringers compared to the big hitters (Superman, Batman, Thor, Wolverine); there's simply no way that they'll be as cool, as interesting, as central to the universe itself, because those niches are all filled. Of course, you can have your players actually get to play the setting-supers themselves, but then you get a whole other bag of worms: everything from two different players fighting over who gets to be Green Lantern, to players claiming that the stats for the heroes as you/the game presented them is wrong because there's no way that Killowog could be a better Green Lantern than Guy Gardner because episode #883 of "Green Lantern Comics" said so, to the guy playing Batman deciding that it would be "really cool" if Batman went nuts and started killing people or the guy playing Superman decides that he's going to take over the world or dump Lois Lane and start going after Black Canary because the player always thought Black Canary was totally hotter.. etc etc ad nauseum. Its a recipe for disaster.

If you choose number 2: your game world can't possibly be as cool as the DC or the Marvel Universe. Those universes have the appeal that they are the familiar worlds of the heroes we know from our infancy. A good example of this is in some of the "worlds" created for the Supers RPGs themselves; M&M's "Freedom City" for example. I've been passed a copy of the new Freedom City sourcebook, and it is intense. Its great. Its got all the classic memes of hero settings, and they did a bang up job of writing it up.
And you know what? I spent the whole fucking time reading the thing saying: "yea, that's obviously Wonder Woman, that's Green Arrow, that's the Skrull, those are the Kree, that's the X-men; they're all here, only less cool". They're cheap knock-offs. So Freedom City, for all its brilliant design, comes out to be a world of cheap knock-offs of all the heroes and themes we already know.

As for number 3: well, how far can you go from the standard themes and still really be playing a Superhero game? What's more, which of these variations can you think of that will be both cool, playable and not be done before? I mean, ripping off Watchmen, or ripping off Rising Stars, or ripping off Mohammed Ali's Anti-Tooth-Decay Champions is no better than ripping off DC or Marvel.

I don't really have a good solution to all this. My own Legion game has the advantage of being the Legion: its set IN the DC universe, tied absolutely to the DC universe, but the setting is a 1000 years divorced from most of the DC universe, so that players and the DM both have a lot more freedom without having to try to jam square pegs in round holes. I decided that the players would basically play their own interpretations of Legion characters (ie. player x is "lightning lad", with lightning lad's same powers, origins, and basic traits but the player will get to decide what LL acts like or does from then on, bound only by the conventions of the Legion Constitution and heroic memes), which is far easier to do than letting your players try to handle their own interpretations of, say, Avengers or the Justice League.

There is one thing that I could advise people if they set out to create their own "supers" universe: one of the things that is often overlooked in trying to emulate the genre is the question of consistency. Most DMs will by default try to create the most consistent world setting possible, but in Supers games this is actually counter-productive. In the universe of DC or Marvel, the world is a big sloshing mess where lots of inconsistencies, multiple origin stories, overlapping metaphysics, altered history, etc. all exist. Trying to make your setting perfectly consistent is actually going to make it feel LESS like the comics.


(Originally posted July 25, 2006)