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Tuesday 29 September 2015

Doctor Who Part 2

Ok, so this post is a little bit late, on account of the fact I was over at my friend's house watching the second episode of Doctor Who.

And I have this to say:

1) It was one of the best dalek episodes I've seen in ages, and probably the single best Davros story since Genesis of the Daleks.

2) I'll repeat: Capaldi's Doctor is the Doctor I've been waiting for.  Like I said, he's like a mix between Jon Pertwee and John Constantine.

3) I've come to the conclusion that I really like the new Master. She was spectacular in this episode; no one will ever beat Roger Delgado, but Missy is the best Master since then.

4) I don't love Clara. But she's certainly a way more tolerable companion than Rose ever was, than River Song ever was, and than Amy Pond ended up being.

So yeah. Best season opener in ages.


Currently Smoking:  Masonic Meerschaum + Image Perique

Monday 28 September 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: Gaming "Nostalgics" and "Futurists"

Two of the problems with the hobby today.

Let me say this: I am neither of these things. I am one of those who believe that the hobby is really great, today. Granted, there was a level of overall prosperity in the 80s that we do not have today, and there are certainly problems today, I'm not a pie eyed idealist. But in general, there's been no better time for gaming, either in general or personally for me as a gamer than today.
The Swine are in full retreat, the games that are coming out are some of the best and most interesting in years.

In general, the people who put down the hobby are either the "nostalgics" who dream of what once was (either old-school 80s nostalgics who can't stand to play anything invented after '89, or worse, White-Wolf-Swine nostalgics who pine for the time when they and their ideologies dominated the industry); or they're "futurists", who are concerned not with gaming as it exists today, but with gaming as they would like it to exist in some imaginary future. They want to dream their dreamey dreams about when gaming and gamers are the way they would wish it to be. Where everyone is playing Forge games, or D&D has ceased to exist.
You know, make-believe.

Those are the fuckers who cause the most problems.

The Buddha said: Be in the moment.
That's pretty good advice as far as the gaming hobby is concerned, because the moment is pretty fucking sweet.


(Originally posted May 19, 2007)

Sunday 27 September 2015

A Note On Doctor Who

I haven't been writing much about Doctor Who, either this season or the previous one, mainly for one reason:  I watch it every week at a good friend's house (who has a full-sized projector and amazing sound system, as well as being a gourmet cook), but only on Tuesday.  Meaning I'm always catching it later than everyone else, in what is frankly an impressively gargantuan act of self-control for a lifelong whovian.

Now, that means I haven't seen yesterday's episode (so don't spoiler me you fuckers!), but I did see the series premiere, and I was quite impressed. I didn't want people to get the idea that I wasn't digging the new series anymore.  Quite the contrary, I was deeply impressed by the first episode, to the point that I'm fairly nervous about whether the follow up could possibly live up to it.

In any case, though, I have trouble getting people who are displeased with the new series as a whole.  Of course, there are episodes that are better than others, there are some episodes that have massively sucked.  But there are some episodes of the old Doctor Who that massively sucked too.  Nor do I get the idea that the quality of the series has declined somehow; it's certainly changed, and there were some great details about the Davies era that were worthwhile (though the overall "chavvy" atmosphere and the obsession with Rose were definitely not among them), and likewise there was stuff in the early Moffat seasons which were quite good too (though River Song absolutely wasn't among them).  Yet, with Capaldi, what we've got is in many ways closer to classic Dr.Who than ever. It's finally a grownup as the doctor, an end to the interminable boyfriend-girlfriend dynamics with the companions (note: I'm not one of these nerds who was horrified at the very idea of this, but the real problem with the idea is that we pretty much got years and years of it until it no longer seemed interesting in the least). And Capaldi... man, he's like Jon Pertwee crossed with John Constantine or something.  He's the doctor I've waited half my fucking life for.

And the first episode of this season, the risk of failing to deliver in the second part aside, it was fantastic.

A totally new dynamic with the Master (Mistress, whatever) and in the plot with Davros we have a brilliant re-envisioning (by a much older, much more life-hardened Doctor) of the dilemma first posed in Genesis of the Daleks.

So yeah; there are a few old Whovians who were determined to hate the new series no matter what (Brett, I'm looking at you here), and a few others who have not taken the new style of the show well, and a few others who were more new-series fans that may have had trouble adapting to the new style of the Capaldi era.
But I'm not any of those.

Maybe it's because I agonized through a fucking decade and a half of no new Doctor Who.  I'm not going to easily forget what that was like.  The show would have to be at least two orders of magnitude worse than it is before I could possibly feel like it's something worth complaining about, especially given the alternative.


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

Saturday 26 September 2015

Famous Pipe Smokers

Today's famous pipe smoker was the great Sherlock Holmes!

Wait, that's not actually Sherlock Holmes, just the closest thing to him: Basil Rathbone. He was the first famous cinematic Sherlock.  He was also a real-life pipe smoker.  I have no news on whether he was a real-life consulting detective.


Currently Smoking:  Neerup bent billiard + Image Latakia

Friday 25 September 2015

RPGPundit Reviews: Dark Albion (Designer Notes)

Yes, it's time for me to do this.  Mind you, in one sense it's kind of too late: there have already been some truly amazing Dark Albion reviews, many of which I've posted in previous blog entries.  I certainly think that no product I wrote has gotten this many reviews, and almost all of them wonderfully attentive and overwhelmingly positive.

So instead of trying to make a kind of self-review where I talk about the game like I would any other book sent to me for review, I think what I'll do here instead is a kind of "designer notes".  Rather than bringing up the details about the astounding production values and art that everyone else has already mentioned, or the chapter-by-chapter breakdown of contents, I'll be talking about little details of what's found in the book and things people might not have noticed or known about the product.

So first, a bit of overview:  Dark Albion is a setting that is designed for any OSR rule-set, but could theoretically be used by any fantasy RPG (with some modification).  It is based on a very near historical parallel to England during the War of the Roses.  By 'near' I don't mean the way Westeros is kind of like 15th century England; I mean that you're actually playing in England itself, albeit with magic and with supernatural creatures.  The cities and counties are real, you can visit London and York and Warwick and Sandwich.  The historical detail is a big part of the point.

(from the back cover)

Those of you who know a bit of history (and/or are Shakespeare buffs) would know that 15th century England went through the bloody and brutal civil war known as the War of the Roses (also called "The Cousins' War"), where Lancaster and York fought for the throne. Speaking of "thrones", fans of George R.R. Martin's novels might know that A Song of Ice and Fire is loosely inspired by this same war, and you can definitely play a very Game-of-Thrones type of campaign with Dark Albion. The modifications to the standard OSR rules make Albion a lot grittier than most D&D settings; and details like the emphasis on Social Class (and its various social rules), noble houses, and culture make for a game with a lot more potential for roleplay and intrigue than what you might get in a standard dungeon crawl.  At the same time, there's plenty of good old-school crawling action to be found: ancient elven tombs, Cymri barrow mounds, goblin warrens, Arcadian catacombs, liches, Morgan le Fay, and even Dracula are all waiting for heroic adventurers to conquer them or die.

So first a few key details:
-the level range is low: most characters in the setting are level 1.  The most powerful characters (excluding a couple of truly epic antagonists) are levels 9-14.
-Social Status is extremely important: the setting has an authentic type of medieval culture. It isn't a ren-faire full of generally 20th century generally American ideas of social behavior. It's a setting where a peasant could be put to death for talking back to a noble (though in Albion he'd have the right to a trial, at least).
-Likewise, women are mostly second-class citizens.  But that isn't to say they can't be powerful in their own right.  Clerics are chosen by the Unconquered Sun (the monotheistic deity of the setting), and are as often women as they are men, and women Clerics are treated no differently from male clerics for the most part. Women mercenaries aren't unheard of in Albion either, nor are women thieves. While women aren't allowed to study at the great Collegiums of Magic (Oxford and Cambridge), they are just as capable in theory of being magic-users as any other human, and many have learned the arts secretly (both high-born ladies and local peasant witches).
-There's Law and there's Chaos:  The Unconquered Sun and his Church are Lawful, while Chaos is the domain of demons.  All magic except clerical miracles are connected to Chaos, though not all magisters or witches are servants of chaos; lawful magisters can bind demons to force them to serve Law.
-Magic is less flashy than in most D&D, magic items are much more rare. The most common magic weapon is the "Sword +0" (which hits magical creatures but gives no bonuses otherwise).  And those are still pretty rare.

The Unconquered Sun takes the place of the Christian god in the setting, though the Church of the Unconquered Sun is pretty much identical to the Catholic Church at that time (including massive, massive corruption that would bring about the Protestant Reformation a few decades later).  The Pontifexes of the church in the setting are all based on real historical popes of the era, and their corruption, lusts, and scheming are taken right from the papal history books.  My reasons for switching out of a Christian setting were that I like the Unconquered Sun concept, it fits better in the law/chaos axis I wanted in the setting, and maybe most importantly, Christianity tends to create a bunch of issues in a lot of gamers.  Some of them, I suspect, would have trouble playing Christianity "straight" (that is, without modern prejudices) while others would probably feel offended at the completely historical corruption demonstrated in the setting material.  In particular, the Clerical order are meant to be truly good; some can be more extreme than others, some Clerics might be more callous than others, but the one quality all Clerics should have is a real belief in serving their God and fighting evil.  I strongly suspected this kind of sincerity would be easier for a lot of gamers to play out if their Cleric was of a Sun God of Law than if I threw Jesus into the mix.

Now, about monsters:  in lands outside of Albion, monsters are somewhat more common.  The lands known as France in our history are Frogland here, and are ruled by chaotic humanoid frogs. Later on in the timeline of the setting Dracula (a Vampire, of course) sets up a kingdom of darkness in Wallachia.  There are Giants in the highlands of Scots' Land.  But in Albion itself supernatural creatures are rare; they are found only in the least populated wilderness area, conveniently the same place where unexplored tombs and barrows are often found and thus where adventurers often end up.  But the chaos of the Rose War is going to lead to more incursions of monsters into populated regions, and all the terror that brings.
Oh, and there aren't any "nice" non-humans.  Anything that isn't human is dangerous at best, and utterly hostile to humanity at worst.  Elves and Dragons ruled the world tens of thousands of years ago, and humans were their slaves (now the Elves have been pushed out of this dimension but still show up from time to time in stone circles on full moons and the like; and Dragons seem to have gone missing). The undead and demons are obviously hostile.  Frogmen are brutal oppressors of humanity.  Goblins are hideous creatures that feast on human flesh.  There are no friendly legolas-style elves or gimli-style dwarves.  Nor are there any halflings, though players are welcome to play wise-cracking alcoholic midgets if they really feel the urge.

In the Gazeteer section, you get an overview of the whole of Albion county by county.  And all of it is historical; either in the sense of actual historical detail or in the sense of legends and folktales that really come from the region being discussed. There are only some very few alterations (St.Paul's cathedral being renamed "St. Apollonius' cathedral", for example; or the punny terror of the "Isle of Wights"). In each area you get gameable details of local information (the guilds and gangs of London, for example), details of the important NPCs active in the region and their allegiances and feuds, and material about the folklore-based supernatural menaces of the area.  So you'll learn about the Royal-killing curse of the New Forest, St. Leonard's vampire in Sussex, the goblins of Dartmoor, the beast of Exmoor, the lost temple of Nodens in Hereford, the stone knights of Rollright, the vicious Merry Men of Eastern Sherwood, the mermaid's pool, the witches of Pendleton, the ghost of "Hardriding" Dick Ridley, the fae-infested Isle of Mann, the lich of Hermitage Castle, and many others.

The section on "the Continent" expands the possible play area and the sort of adventuring a campaign can feature.  If the Rose War isn't enough for your bellicose players, they can crusade against the Frogmen, or against the Turks for that matter.  I already mentioned Dracula, but aside from him the period featured some of the most fascinating historical characters:  the renaissance was in its early period, and monarchs like Casimir the Great, the Grand Duke Philip of Burgundy, Mehmet the Conqueror, and Matias Corvinus ("the crow") made their mark.  You can hang out with Richard Crookback in Albion, or at certain times of the campaign you could hang out with Rodrigo Borgia in Arcadia, or meet a young Niccolo Machiavelli or Leonardo Da Vinci.

While I took much more liberties with the Continental lands, sometimes viewing them from an English lens or making them more exotic the further away they are from the islands, most of the material here is historical too.

The sections on Law and Punishment and Currency and Equipment are both highly historical too. The laws and punishments (and the material on torture) are all drawn from medieval sources. This includes things like the sumptuary laws (where you can be penalized by dressing outside your social class), and the actually fairly strict (by D&D terms, anyways) rules on who can wear arms or armor and where. The price lists in the game are also historical; but I chose to create a currency system that would be a little easier for the modern North American to understand than the non-decimal system of pennies and shillings that would have actually existed at the time. Some of the prices might seem really wrong to our D&D-trained minds, swords seem way too cheap (though keep in mind that good swords cost a lot more), and some armor seems way too expensive, but these are reflective of what things actually could be bought for at the time (rather than chosen based on our modern sense of what we imagine might seem right).

The Chronology is carefully researched and provides a breakdown of major FUTURE events (there's a smaller section that tells you what happened in the past of the setting, but I never got the point of these long past timelines instead of a bunch of stuff covering what the GM could do with the setting from that point forward).  It covers the years 1453 - 1485, giving you 33 years of gameplay (presuming you are starting in 1454).  Each year details important events, what happens to important NPCs, detailed summaries of major battles in the Rose War, and weird events.

There's a whole system for managing noble houses:  to keep track of their financial, political and military power. This system is not extremely complex; I wanted something that could work in the abstract that would let players handle this sort of thing, but without going nuts with detail (there's always ACKS for those gamers who want to have a much more detailed and focused system of dominion management).  The section includes a mechanic for handling mass combat, which is also simple.  These sorts of things usually end up being rules-heavy, and I wanted something fast and easy even if it wouldn't be as detailed, so that groups that don't want to spend hours determining how their turnip crops do could still have something to resolve the bigger questions of what is happening to a noble house.
To me, the most important part of the noble house rules is the mechanic for "influence rolls", where characters in charge of noble houses, trying to make some kind of political maneuver involving obtaining favor, manipulating parliament, etc., can make a check based on the political power of their house.

The section on important characters is full of NPC nobles; which may be more useful in certain campaigns than others.  It would be great if they spread across more social classes, but I wanted to use actual historical figures and there aren't a lot of great biographies of fishmongers from that era who led fascinating lives. The heraldic shields given to each family are mostly the actual historical ones too (though the editor made just a few tweaks to serve the setting). The "GM secrets" section at the end of that chapter, which details some of the most important secrets of some of the most important nobles, were judgment calls as I made them in the campaign.  In my campaign, Queen Margaret was a magic-user; it doesn't mean she has to be in yours.

Once again, the biographies of the Pontifexes are almost exact matches to the historical records of the various popes who ruled during the period of this campaign.  Ditto with the foreign rulers, with the exception of the Frogmen kings of course.
For the magic section, I didn't worry myself too much about the spell lists (just basically picking the spells from the AD&D 1e PHB I thought were OK), and was obviously guided more than a bit by how LotFP handled spells. I wanted to make sure magisters would have to go through a lot of effort to be able to research spells or make items, since the whole setting is supposed to be fairly low-magic.
The part I'm really proud of here is the summoning rules; and as I was writing them I had my copy (well, ONE of my multiple copies) of the real-life medieval magic-book The Goetia at my side (as well as the Book of Abra-melin, another grimoire). The whole system of demon-summoning is probably the most medieval-authentic that D&D has ever gotten.  At the same time, I made a point of not just imitating the names and attributes of the goetic demons themselves, because some people would probably not care for that (so don't fear, if you're an evangelical or the like, there's no real world demon stuff in the book). And, frankly, because that just wouldn't be a good idea.

The summoning system does a great job of allowing even low-level magisters access to amazing powers, but they will have to be very careful not to bite off more than they could chew.  The need to have the right names and sigils provide great fodder for both roleplaying involvement and questing potential.
The Lance of Mithras is a major artifact of the campaign; and the sort of thing that high-level adventurers could try to go questing for (especially if there are clerics or extremely devout hero-type warriors in the group).  The locations of the pieces of the Lance are based on real-life historical locations that claimed to have pieces of the 'spear of destiny'.

The section on herbalism and alchemy are, I think, another great feature of the book.  In particular they treat poison WAY more realistically than most D&D games do (there's nothing that will kill you instantly, even the most deadly natural poison will take a minimum of 2 full rounds before you have a chance of dropping dead). This gives a great period of extreme tension for any PC who realizes they've been poisoned, where they have rounds, minutes, or hours to do something (be it desperately seek a cure, or try to go out in a blaze of glory) before they face death.  Of course, magical creatures with magical poison can still be ultra-deadly.  The herbs (somewhat inspired by the awesome Maelstrom game) and alchemical concoctions allow for non-magical characters with certain skills to really shine.

The encounters on the roads are also filled with flavor, a lot of it based on authentic historical detail. Only a minority of them are meant to be really life-threatening. They're more set up for picaresque flavor.  I'll note that the "obstacles" table, which I think is really clever, was written entirely by Dominique Crouzet.  The random events table in the populated areas are mainly meant to create a sense of a living environment; when the PCs come back after while to a town they've already been to, it's easy to just gloss over things and make everything feel like those old video games where nothing changes unless the player is around. The table of events is meant to avoid that problem.  The mechanics for drawing unwanted attention are set up so that if you don't have "respectable" people in your party, your group will really feel the inherent cultural distrust of weirdo strangers that look potentially violent (to say nothing of what happens if one of your players decides their character is going to try to go around armed or armored in town!).

Like many of the parts in this chapter, the majority of the adventure locations were partially (and initially) designed by Dominique Crouzet. Obviously, all the dungeon type maps (elven tomb, goblin warren, etc.) were drawn by him, and in some cases generally presented an idea of the scenario, which I then filled in. All the dungeon-type locations are really great for one-shots (I've run them multiple times).   The section for social-type locations (at court, and at the fair) are great for intrigue-type play at very different social-class levels.  The section on "The Wall" provides great source material (almost entirely done by Dominique Crouzet, again).

The Knights of the Star are this setting's version of the Order of the Garter; and they have some of the same historical rules and most of the same historical membership as that latter order did.

Appendix P is one of the coolest parts of the book which have not really gotten too much attention yet. They are my own 'house rule' modifications (add a spell list and you're pretty much good to go) for a gritty version of D&D.  The experience point rules are a variation of the experience rules from my old FtA! game.  The idea of classes potentially rolling randomly for its bonuses each level-up is based on early conceptual ideas for Arrows of Indra (which I ultimately didn't use there, because it would have been too gritty for AoI, a game that is supposed to have a very epic feel).  Some of the other stuff was inspired by a variety of sources, ranging from Swords & Wizardry to 5e D&D. The Alternate Spellcasting rules were an attempt at introducing a simplified mechanic similar to the DCC magic rules (I had also considered doing some kind of simplified 'corruption' rules on a spell failure, but that actually wouldn't fit very well with the setting; if wizards were getting random corruption just for being wizards -as opposed to mutation for serving chaos- then there's no way any magic would be allowed in this culture).  The sage is suggested as an NPC class, but in fact in the original Dark Albion game, one of the most successful characters by far was in essence a Sage (and the only guy who played the whole campaign, thus far, with that one character).
The critical rules were the last thing added to the Appendix P rules, largely as a response to a question posed by Dominique regarding how the (low level) Duke of Somerset could possibly slay the (high level) Sir John Wenlock (the "prince of traitors") with a single ax-blow to the head.  The crit rules mean that a very lucky roll can let a low level character kill a high-level character.

There's a lot of cool random tables in the book.  Among these you get:
-"Random Prior Event" tables for character creation
-random tables for Anglish, Scots or Cymric names (male and female) that are based on the actual most popular names in England, Scotland and Wales at that time.
-annual events for noble houses
-random events in battles
-the spell lists have been remade to fit the setting and are all random-roll capable.
-the demonic powers lists are set up so they could be rolled on d30s.
-potion design flaw table
-random encounter tables on roads
-random madman table
-obstacle table
-village, town and city random events.
-urban random encounter
-random urban mob target table
-random benefit tables for class in the Appendix P Rules

So yeah, more than enough has been said about Albion in so many reviews, I don't think I need to add more to give you the gist of things.  That said, if you have any questions about the content of the book, or about the design process, please feel free to ask in the comments.

You can buy Dark Albion in hardcover from Lulu (with an alternate cover that I think is awesome), in softcover from Amazon, or in PDF from RPGnow.


Currently Smoking:  Mastro de Paja Rhodesian & Image Perique

Thursday 24 September 2015

Someone Reviews Something That Isn't Dark Albion!

I guess someone got a bit carried away; with the utter deluge of reviews (all of them positive) of my Dark Albion book lately, I suppose that it was bound to happen that someone would end up reviewing some other game of mine, either to look at my greater body of work or just by some kind of accident!

In any case, here it is:  a review of Arrows of Indra!  In fact, a really great review of Arrows of Indra!
Seriously, they made some tables and everything.

(and a lot of pictures!)

So if you got Dark Albion, and you liked my work there, you may want to consider picking up Arrows of Indra too, because I promise you it'll be good as well!


Currently Smoking:  Lorenzetti Egg + Brebbia no.7

Wednesday 23 September 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: The Multiverse

Today I'm not going to go into a rant; instead we'll be talking about something positive.  Not to worry, I'm sure there'll be lots of rants to come, but from time to time it can be good to discuss the more positive aspects of roleplaying.

My rants about RPGs are almost always impersonal, rants with companies and fandom in general.  On the specific level, RPGs are a passion, the best of all games.

And my games in particular seem to be good. I'm not sure what it is that makes me a great DM, but there's something there that does.  Nothing is quite so satisfying as having that confirmed by my players, which happens fairly often.  Just a few days ago, I had the treat of having a couple of players express to me that they've become far better gamers since getting into my campaign; not long before that, I had a couple of others tell me that if they were only playing one campaign, the one I was running would be it bar none.

This got me to thinking: just what the fuck is it that makes my games special? Certainly, I've gotten better at GMing over course of the years, but aside from the practice of experience, what else is it about my campaigns that seems to so appeal to my players?

I think there are a couple of key techniques I apply, that I came to apply just by instinct, that tend to differentiate my game from many others, that make them work so well.

One of them is what I term the "multiverse".  By this I don't mean something like RIFTS or TORG, the concept of multiple universes within a single game.  Rather, to me the "multiverse" refers to a phenomenon that I have unwittingly developed in all my games, all my campaigns.

My games, the ones I'm currently running, and all the ones I've ever run in the past, are all happening in the same reality.  They are all in different settings, but the reality is mine, and they are all linked.

This is something that doesn't manifest itself overtly, only subtly. But anyone who's played more than one of my campaigns will at least subconsciously pick up on it. Themes, characters, and events in one setting somehow overlap in the others, they connect.

On the most basic level, this appears in the form of recurring characters.  There are a few NPCs (and the occasional PC) that have been in past campaigns, that inevitably pop up in my current ones.  Not always as exactly the same person, not always in the same context, but they are there. One particular example is Smiley, the crazy Scottish barbarian.  He started out way back in my Star Wars campaign as a humble starship pilot and gourmet chef, and since that time there hasn't been a single campaign where Smiley hasn't shown up.  Sometimes he was right there with the party, adding muscle to the group when they needed it, other times he might only make a brief cameo. But the players know at some point or another Smiley will show up.  There are various others who will show up in certain campaigns, but not in all of them.

But recurring characters are only the most basic and visible manifestation of the multiverse.  There are far deeper elements that connect my campaigns.  Items of power that appear in one form in one game, only to appear again in some other way in the other campaign. Themes and events that rise and fall coursing their way through my games like a wave.

Just how intrinsic this multiverse has become to my own game is something that only very rarely impacts on my players on a conscious level.  Recently one of my players, the only one who is currently in all three of my active campaigns, had a moment of total realization and told me that the War that is going on in my D&D campaign, the one that is just starting in my Traveller campaign, and the one that is only foreseen in my Blacksand campaign are all tied to each other.

He was of course correct.  It's not that those three campaigns are "directly" linked, that they have any intrinsic connection, but all of them are a reflection of the same event.  They're all the same epic conflict, rising out of my inner self, manifesting in all my worlds. The multiverse has become so absolute that what one group of players does in one campaign sets a tone that affects the others.

And there is how it becomes appealing to my players. They get the feeling in the game, knowingly or not, that they are part of a much bigger movement, and that their actions have an effect not just on their immediate surroundings but on the universe as a whole. They don't just contribute to one setting that will disappear once the game becomes unprofitable; they participate in a universe that will be there long after any individual character or game is discarded.

That's one of the two features that I think go a long way to creating a superior game; the other is what I call the "cast of thousands".  The "multiverse" is the more ephemeral of the two, while the "cast of thousands" is the direct.. and I'll talk about that one in the next entry.


(Originally posted June 28, 2005)

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Everyjoe Tuesday: South Park Edition!

Today's article looks at South Park, after its spectacular premiere (where it directly took on, and brilliantly mocked, the Pseudo-activists).  More specifically, it points out why South Park is not just better humor than Colbert or the Daily Show, it's also made a bigger political impact than either of those two progressive favorites.

Want to understand why that is? Go read the article!!  And while you're at it, please comment, +1, like on facebook, and retweet it.  Help us stop all the shitheads who expect us to "respect" their "Authoritah"!


Currently Smoking:  Davidoff 400-series + C&D's Pirate Kake

Monday 21 September 2015

A Quick Note on Using Social Skills vs. Actualy Roleplaying It

In any game that has social skills, rather than roleplaying, you can run a game without roleplaying more easily than one that has no social skills, unless you run the latter purely as a miniatures skirmish.

That's because in any situation that demands roleplay, in the game with social skills, you can just say "i try to charm/seduce/enchant/intimidate/impress/honor person x" and then roll a die and the die roll can tell you whether you did it or not.
In a game with no social skills, you actually have to roleplay.

The great rebuttal people try to offer to this point is that if you have explicit social-skill rules in a game, that means that it's somehow encouraging people to do more social scenes, whereas D&D with no social skills is just encouraging combat somehow.  This is a bit like saying that giving people a ton of tofu will encourage them to eat more meat, while not having tofu on the table means people will forget all about bacon.

In my experience most of the time "the system encourages it" mentality actually causes LESS reliance on roleplaying (and more reliance on 'story points' or having "five dots in diplomacy" or whatever).  That's not the sort of encouragement you need or want.  Any "encouragement" that makes how well you roleplay the character irrelevant if you roll the wrong die result is not actually encouragement, it's discouragement.  It's telling you "don't worry about trying to portray the character, just put your points in the right skills".


Currently Smoking: Italian Redbark + Gawith's Squadron Leader

Sunday 20 September 2015

DCC Campaign Update: Robot Necromancers and Night Goats

At the start of this session, we had Ack'Basha the cleric facing the devastating aloneness of being his party's only survivor.  Only just after that, the hippie, who had buggered off into the mountains, came back as a cleric now and had brought a whole group of new friends with him!
Among them was a Boat Swine (sea-faring pig-man), an untouchable with a third eye (that's good luck, apparently), a would-be warrior, a Dwarf who wants to be a wizard, and some others.  The Untouchable's name is "MC Hammer" but he doesn't actually know the lyrics to "can't touch this".

The PCs:

-learned that there's apparently some place called Gnoll Aqua Base 1.

-Found a book on Necromancy written by someone named Bolt-0, and were left wondering if it could possibly be the same conversation-loving Robot they know by that name.

(robot wizards are a problem in the world of the Last Sun)

-Already knew that G.O.D. disapproves of a lot of stuff, but apparently the super-frivolous use of Divine Aid to light a doobie is not one of them.

-Wondered if that counts as Peer-Pressure from G.O.D. "C'mon man, toke up, it's the divine will!"

-Were left more confused by the fact that apparently G.O.D. also approves of using Neutralize Poison to kill someone else's buzz.

-Quit goofing around and went back into the dungeon under the monastery, only to find some particularly feral halflings, and then a really creepy hallway with flickering lights that ends in an elevator door.

-saw 'things' in the hallway. May or may not have banished these 'things' if indeed they ever existed.

-Engage in some vandalism and non-compliance of regulations in the creepy hallway.

-discover that the elevator is in fact an elevator to Hell.

-Learn that the elevator to Hell is a one-way trip to a cave full of dire Shadows.

-See the hippie cleric sacrifice himself; realize that him shouting "run, you fools" as he was swarmed by Shadows would have been a lot more awesome if there was some exit to run to!

-Manage to find said exit just as they were about to be over-run.

-Escape the Cave of Shadows only to end up in a mist-filled corridor.  The Hippie Cleric is dead and turned into a Shadow, while Ack'Basha is so drained by the Shadows he can't actually move, needing someone else to make 'air quotes' for him with their fingers while talking about the deceased Hippie "Cleric".

-Ran into, while resting in the mist-filled labyrinth, a lost trio of newbs.  They are: an obese Red-mutant beggar who's surprisingly nimble, a Brahmin who got sick of his religious duties, and a squire with no knight.

-Risked stepping back into the Shadow cavern to dash and grab the dead Hippie Cleric's loot.

-Once again evade the Shadows and then start getting semi-lost in the misty labyrinth until they run into a six-armed fire-demon, which they manage to scare off only with some holy water and the beads of demon-repulsion, which they realize is the most important magic item they now have.

-keep getting more lost in the misty underworld. They run into some toothy gollum-like demons but turn those away with the holy beads too.

-Finally end up in a mexican stand-off with the Fire Demon Prince, pissed off at their presence, but unable to kill them. He makes a deal with them: some asshole summoner has stolen away his pet Night Goats, and if he sends them back to the surface world they will need to recover them.

(presumably the demon's Night Goats will look a lot less adorable than this)

-Having agreed, are transported back to the surface world, finding themselves in a Necromancer's magical summoning room.... which turns out to be in Highbay! In fact, it turns out to be right in the High Council building.

-Discover that in their absence, Sandi the Warrior Queen and Goldeater of Goldhalcon have escalated into a cold war with each other.  Also, the Cyrilic mafia and the Bharata mafia are in the midst of a very hot gang war. All this meaning the PCs have kept up their perfect track record of fucking up every place they visit.

-Finally discover that the Necromancer room in the High Council building in fact belongs to Bolt-0 the friendly Conversation Robot!  It appears Bolt-0 did write that ancient book from the monastery, and is more than meets the eye! But what's his true agenda?!

-decide it's best to end the session there, to level up, and so that the GM has time to get ready for a trip.  We return to DCC next week!


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

Thursday 17 September 2015

Another Fantastic Dark Albion Review

I know I've been posting an awful lot of these, but what can I say? There's oh so many of them. Everyone seems to like Dark Albion, pretty much all the reviews have been very positive.

This is the third part of the three part review by Nemo's Lounge on the book.  Since I'm quite rushed now, and may not be posting at all over the next two or three days, I thought I'd leave you all with that to check out.

By next week, my posts should resume back to their more regular style.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Poker & Burlington's October Twilight

Wednesday 16 September 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant:The Bureacracy Trap

Last Week's Ordeals: The Bureaucracy Trap

I figure by now many of you are wondering exactly what happened to me last week, that caused me to be away for four days (give or take).

It's time you all heard that story.

It all started on Tuesday last week, when I noticed my ADSL blinking on and off. Montevideo is going through its heat wave right now, and those external ADSL boxes heat up like a sonofabitch, so I figured that it could be that the damn thing was overcooked.  When it turned out you could fry an egg over it, I knew it was so.  I tried to shut the damn thing down, but it was too late, by then it had melted clear through my desk, my floor, and down to apartment #301.

Right, I figured. Time to call "technical services" at ANTELDATA, service provider to me and the other 2.9 million Uruguayans.  Yup, they're a monopoly; technically other companies offer ISP services, but since Antel controls all of the actual IPs coming into Uruguay, no matter who you do business with, you're doing business with Antel.  Its got all of the stupidity of competition with none of the benefits.

So I called them up, realizing that hopes of something getting resolved by this point were pretty dim, given that it was already about 9pm.  The girl at the phone was friendly, and said that a Technical expert would call me.  When? She wasn't sure, but very soon.

Ok, great.  I don't have to wait on the phone, I just relax and they'll call me very soon.

Day 2:
The technical expert hadn't called me.  By about 11am I was sure that no technical expert was going to call me, so I called "technical services" back again, a little upset.  After being told I was 21st in line on hold and all operators were busy, I was more than a little upset.  It didn't help that instead of the typical muzak for waiting, all we got was the Carpenter's "Close to You", repeated over and over again, performed entirely with ringtone beeping.  After about 40 minutes of that chinese water torture I finally got through, and managed to impose on the less-than-friendly girl the significance of my problem, and she assured me that this time, the technical expert would call me in one hour.

2pm: The technical expert hadn't called me. I call again, for the third time, suffering through the waiting period and the awful beepy cover of Close to You again, and tell the girl that I really want to speak to a Technical Expert RIGHT NOW, and not wait.  She agrees, says, "one moment please"; and hangs up on me.
At this point my blood pressure is through the roof, I'm one step away from swinging the fucking phone in an warlike arc in the air and throwing it out my fifth-story window, and my cat is hiding under the sofa in terror.
I call again. Again Close to You.
Beep beep beep, beep beep be-be-beeeeep, be-be-beep, be-be-bee-ee-ee-eep.
(sons of bitches I want to kill them all)
Beep beep beep, be-be be-beep, be-be-beep.
(fucking socialist sons of bitches with their fucking monopoly)
Finally a girl answers.  I once more express the problem to her, along with a few choice words about her fellow operator's decision to hang up on me, but not before I make sure to get this operator's name to make sure the same sort of shenanigans won't take place. She agrees to put me through to a Technical Expert.  "One moment please"...
..suddenly, I find myself back in the main menu of the phone. FUCKING HELL. Once more I disk fucking "2" for ADSL services, once more I wait 20 mins with the FUCKING Close To You. A different girl answers, and I decide that at this point I will make myself clear. My ADSL modem is BROKEN.  I do NOT want to talk to a Technical Expert in an hour. I do not want to talk to a Technical Expert right now. I want a Technical Expert to COME TO MY FUCKING APARTMENT WITH A NEW ADSL MODEM, and I want this done before the end of the day, or there will be unspeakable hell to pay.

This girl in particular seemed to get the gravitas in my voice. Deep down inside, she realized that my mind had snapped, and the next step should she fail to do what I asked would be for me to go downtown to the Anteldata  offices with a sawed off shotgun in hand, blowing new holes into everyone I saw, while whistling "Close to You".  And she knew, worst of all, that no court in the land would convict me.

So she did the only thing she could at this point, the absolute last resort of the socialist bureaucrat: she provided me with the service she was contractually obliged to. A Technical Expert was on his way, before 6pm, I was told. It would have to be before 6pm, since that's when they stop working for the day.

I decided to trust this girl. The sheer terror in her voice told me that she wasn't bullshitting me, that she, like me, had run out of options and knew that it was this or hot lead. So I hung up, and spent the next couple of hours trying to find things to do to keep me occupied. I wrote a review of Iron Gauntlets.  I translated some sanskrit poetry. I became an absolute master at Chuzzle. I came to realize just how brutally useless my $2000 machine was without a simple telephonic connection.

The hours rolled by, and I was getting nervous, but of course I wasn't going to call the fuckers back again until 6pm. Finally, at 5:20pm, my doorbell rings. I'm pleasantly surprised to hear that its the Anteldata Tech guy. Maybe this long nightmare is nearing its end.

Going downstairs and opening the door, I am greeted by Walter, a sextagenarian guy who looks like he'd be more in place down on the farm, or working in a mechanic's shop, than doing Tech Support for ADSL internet connections. Walter proves to be a relatively pleasant surprise, though, as he quickly admits that my old modem is broken, pulls out a new one (the newer, smaller model), and plugs it in.

We test it out, just to make sure. We get an "Error 678: could not connect with outside source". We try again, to the same result. The new modem's lights are all on, everything seems to be in working order. Walter pulls out his laptop, and connects the modem to the laptop, to test if the problem is coming from my machine, and finds that he can't connect with the laptop either.

Could it be the modem, I ask him? He tells me its not the modem, the modem is new, and all the lights are on. I ask him if he couldn't try with a different modem just to be sure, but he points out to me that, in fact, Anteldata only gives them one modem at a time. Stupid, stupid fuckers.

He calls Technical Assistance on his cellphone, obviously having an inside line that means he is spared the terror of Close to You. He starts getting into an argument with the "kid" (his word) on the other side of the line. The "kid" insists that the problem must be with my machine, because everything over there seems to be working fine.  Of course, Walter says that everything here is working fine, and my machine couldn't be to blame, because the modem doesn't connect with his laptop either.  Pretty soon he's hurling insults across the phone, and the Kid in turn is openly refusing to do what Walter is telling him to do to test the ADSL connection, point blank.  Walter asks to talk to the supervisor. The kid tries to tell him that there is no supervisor there; which Walter points out would be against regulations, and threatens to leave for the head office right now to file a report. The kid keeps trying to hem and haw, so Walter hangs up on him.  Its 6pm now, so he's done working, but as a favour to me he'll send a report to head office, and "we'll get these bastards" he tells me.

Great, but what about my fucking internet connection?? I ask him if I can have a different phone number to call so I can bypass the airhead secretaries, considering that at this point its been two days and this is an urgent situation. He tells me that he can't do that, but he finally promises to call me first thing in the morning, and if the boneheads at head office haven't fixed my problem by then, he'll get on their ass about it.

Day 3: Its brutally hot, and I don't have ADSL.  Early in the morning I'm awakened by Walter's phone call.  "Is it working?" he asks. "No." I tell him. "Right," he says, "Someone will be calling you in one hour".

I'd heard that before. But hey, its Walter.  Walter wasn't like those fucking phone operators. He was real. He looked like the guy you'd see in the corner bar, getting drunk on grappa.  That made him my sort of person.

And true to good old Walter, I did get a phone call, from a Technical Expert, about an hour later. He asked me to try to connect again, but I got the 678 Error again. He asked me to check all kinds of settings on my computer; I reminded him that there's no fucking way the problem could be with my computer, but humoured him. in the end, he said they couldn't find the problem, but that they would, at this point, "change my port". Doing that would almost certainly fix whatever was wrong somewhere in the line between me and the internet that made it impossible for me to get there from here. He told me that someone would call me in under two hours.

That was at 11am.  By 2pm, three hours later, no one had called. Once more, I had to go through the nightmare of calling the help line, and waiting and listening to "Close to You". This was, by now, my fifth call to the help line. By this point I knew my case number off by heart, and made the mistake of saying that first, in a desperate attempt to save time.  The girl, confused by my skipping all of her initial questions, reacted badly.  She said that according to her I had already received a new modem.  That's true, I told her, but I still can't fucking connect to the internet.  Meanwhile I want to know if someone is changing my port. She told me that she couldn't tell me that.  Doing a double take, I asked her why the fuck not: had my case suddenly become a question of national security?! What the fuck was going on here?? She told me that only a Technical Expert could tell me, to which my reply was: that's why I was trying to get you to pass me onto a fucking technical expert, you mangy fucking tart! The clueless girl said she wasn't allowed to. Wasn't allowed? What the fuck... it's not like I hadn't talked to them before!! What the fuck is this?? By now I felt like I was in the fucking Twilight zone, trapped in some kind of wierd limbo where  no one on the telephone would ever make any sense, and I would never have ADSL again. She told me she'd send them a message and promised that someone would contact me before the end of the day.

Fine. Except once more, I was a prisoner in my own apartment.  They don't say "we'll call you between 11:20 and 11:50"; no, they don't even say "we'll call you between 2 and 4".  They say "we'll call you, at some point":  That means that if you dont' want to lose the message, you need to be at home. The entire fucking day. With no ADSL. Waiting like an idiot, in the vain hope that they'll actually do it and call you, when of course in reality the only reason they even say that is to cull out the weak, figuring that if they don't call and you don't call back to complain, your problem must be resolved.

I really would go for absolutely any alternative to Anteldata, if there was any.  What about Cable Modem you ask? Good question.  The answer is, there is none.  Not because of any technological backwardness in Uruguay; no; because of political backwardness.  You see, Antel, the state phone company, is one of the most powerful bureaucracies  in the government.  And they somehow successfully argued that their monopoly extends beyond just the actual physical phone lines, to "communications media" of all kinds.  As such, they managed to make Cable Modem lines illegal in Uruguay.  No cable company can offer internet by cable. Uruguay is doomed to only have ADSL, forever. Or until an irate Canadian bombs the fucking Antel building in retribution.

By 7pm, I'd once more had enough of waiting. Calling yet again (6th time), I demanded to speak to a Technical Expert. Once again the ring of insanity around the edges of my voice scared the girl into compliance.  So much for "not being allowed" to connect me directly. Fuckers.
The Technical Expert apologized and claimed not to know why his colleague hadn't called me, but he said that my port had been moved and now my internet connection was working. Great, except IT FUCKING WASN'T.  I had been periodically checking it, having no fucking better thing to do all day while I waited for you fuckers to call. And I could tell you, here with my own eyes, that it was NOT fucking working. If it was fucking working, you stupid worthless cunt, I wouldn't be bothering to call you would I???
He had me hold on a second, and then got back on the line. I was right, he said. Apparently, the port hadn't been changed.
WHAT? You had just fucking told me that it had!
Yes, he said, because your file says it has.  Someone changed the detail on your file, but no one actually went out and did it.

So let me get this straight: You're saying that some fucker just went and put "I fixed it" on my file, without actually doing a fucking thing?!
Yes, he told me, they probably forgot.

At this point I began threatening to sue them, for extreme mental distress, not to mention the fact that I had already been 3 days without internet, that's 1/10 of the month. You know, he said, you can apply to get a discount from your monthly bill. Do I sound like someone who wants a "discount from their monthly bill"  to you?? No, I'm someone who WANTS TO FUCKING GET BACK ON THE INTERNET.  And, in an ideal world, I want to have a fucking choice about dealing with some fucking company other than yours!  And, in a truly utopic world, I would really love the opportunity to line up every single fucker who I've had the displeasure of being in contact with during this whole ordeal (except maybe Walter) and have them savaged by a pack of wild timberwolves.

The technician told me that they'd try to fix it, but that the job probably couldn't be done until tomorrow. And of course, he claimed they would call me. Spare me your lies, I told him.  Only once in this whole thing, out of 6 seperate promises that I would be "called", did someone actually get back in touch with me without me having to go phoning back on my own initiative. He told me to keep trying to connect online for the next couple of hours, just in case if it got fixed.

Day 4:  I was still awake at 2am, which normally I would be, working online.  But in this case, it was a combination of habit, the heat, and my own stress that was keeping me awake.  I had enough adrenaline rushing through me that anything that crossed my path at this time was likely to be at the bad receiving end of violence.  A big 6L jug of mineral water that wouldn't open ended up repeatedly stabbed with a meat knife until there was water everywhere.  A kleenex box of inferior quality ended up torn to shreds.  This was my revenge on incompetent products.  You see, I'd bought the 6L "Nativa" mineral water, even though it was of lower quality than the 5L "Salus" water, because the extra liter of water was only 2 pesos more.  But in exchange for that, I was stuck with a jug that wouldn't open.
I'd bought the kleenex because it was all the store had, even though the "kleenex" license in Uruguay makes these godawful tissues that fall to shreds the second you blow on them, while the "Elite" brand are incredibly resilient.  But in my impatience, I'd gone with what was there.
In both cases, it had been my mistake for going with the shoddier product. After brutally avenging myself on them, I swore that I would never repeat the mistake, and went on to clean up the mess of watery clumps of ruined tissue paper that was all over the floor.
Fortunately, I could make such an oath, because of the beauty of capitalism. There are competing products. If you're willing to pay more, you can get better quality; you have CHOICE.
But with the fucking socialist state telephone monopoly, I had no such option.  Even if I was theoretically willing to pay millions a month (and by then, I would have been were there such an option), I could NOT get a different service than the utterly crappy, incompetent, corrupt, fucked up service that was being offered to me.

By 3 in the morning my place was spic and span, and I decided to try calling the "24 Hr" help line for the 7th time, just to see if I could get any more information. I fully expected that in fact, I would end up getting a robot or something, and there was no way the phone line of ANY state company would REALLY be 24 Hour. But, to my surprise, a human being answered me.  Apparently, in the wee hours of the morning, the ones who don't work are the annoying, useless, and rude secretaries, who clearly have a better union contract than the Tech Experts themselves do; because if you call at 3 in the morning, your phone is answered DIRECTLY by a Tech Expert.  What's more, its answered by an insanely bored tech expert with nothing  to do, because no one in Uruguay calls an ADSL help line at 3am, because they all assume that the "24 hour service" claim is false.

The dude turned out to be the first really friendly and helpful person I'd spoken to since Walter. He spent the next hour and a half talking me through all kinds of stuff, on my side of the line and his, trying to see if he couldn't fix the problem.  According to him, the port change was still listed as having been "done"; but he wasn't sure if that was the old claim or the new one. His own investigations told him that the "Port change" had been done, but he thought it might have been done erroneously, which explained why I was still getting "678 errors".

Finally, he too failed to correct the problem. But at least he'd tried, and at least he'd been sincere. He told me that he would pass the data on to the dayshift, and advised me to call again in the day.  Note: He didn't promise me that they'd call me, he didn't bullshit me. He gave it to me straight, and in the process proved to me that every single other person out of the dozens I'd ended up speaking to so far had been lying to me.

The next day, I called again. It would be the 8th time I called the fucking help line, the 8th time I had to listen to the beep-beep version of "Close to You".  And I was attended to by a girl named "alejandra" who turned out to be easily and by far the most annoying, condescending, unreasonable bitch of the lot.  She told me that according to my file the port changed had occured, and that it was "impossible" that there could continue to be a problem. She told me that she would not put me in touch with a technical expert, that she would send them a message and they would call me. When I pointed out to her that this had been a problem for FOUR DAYS now and that every single person who claimed that had ended up lying to me, she insisted that this was all she could do, and all but said that she was actually doing nothing.

Finally, I'd had enough.  I made some calls, and got in touch with the supervisor there. I explained my situation, and he told me that he'd fix it, and that he'd be having a talk with Alejandra too.

In retrospect, my buddy Alejo called me an idiot for not doing that first, and choosing to suffer through  four days of hell, given the particular contacts I have in this country.  But there were two things that worked to prevent me from doing so.  The first was that I wanted to give the regular means at least a chance of working (that, Alejo told me, was the stupid part).   The second was that once I did start the regular process of technical assistance, the fuckers had been incredibly good at convincing me that a solution was only a few hours away at most.  Their constant promises that someone would give me a call, that something was being done, etc etc., even though apparently ABSOLUTELY NOTHING was being done, had served to keep me hooked for just a few hours more, willing to play their game in the sucker's bet that it would all get fixed if I just played by the rules.

But by then, I'd gone beyond caring.  Alejandra's bitchiness had driven me over the edge, the fact that nothing seemed to be working had driven me to desperation, and to top it all off, it was Friday.  I knew that if a solution was not found by the end of the day, there was no way in god's green earth that I would have ADSL again until AT LEAST Monday. So finally I got my head out of the fuzzy cycle of believing in the bureaucrats, and used my contacts to cut to upper management, which is, in retrospect, what I should have done to avoid this whole mess in the first place.

By shortly after noon, without so much as having called to warn me, another Tech expert was at my apartment.  He came with a new modem, and lo and behold my ADSL was working again. I learned a powerful lesson about Uruguay that day, which Alejo phrased in his usual eloquent way: "in this country, EVERYTHING only happens from contacts".  Its not the last resort, if you have any brains at all, it is the first resort.

Its a lesson I won't forget the next time I have trouble with my ADSL connection, or any monopoly-related difficulty.
Anyways, it's all behind me now. I've learned and grown from the experience, and am none the worse for wear.  Except that I'm not sure how long it will be before I could listen to the Carpenters again without going into psychotic screaming fits.


(Originally posted February 7, 2007)

Tuesday 15 September 2015

The Conditions and Inherent Agenda of Victimhood Culture

So today I was going to post something new about the whole OBS censorship scandal, the Breitbart article on the subject, and what it says about the left and right, but then as it went on I realized it'll make better fodder for my next Everyjoe article.  So, expect that sometime next week.

And now, I don't have enough time to do much of anything else, so I'll share with you another excellent article that could only be seen on a right-wing media outlet these days (because the left has lost any allegiance to any concepts of 'free speech'):  the Atlantic's latest article on Victimhood Culture.

To me the two really interesting points about this are:

a) Victimhood culture can only exist in an environment where there are social superiors (people in authority) that can be appealed to as an answer to slights and have a strong interest in policing said slights. On the one hand, it means that victimhood culture is going to be particularly strong in places like colleges (where administrators and student groups are extremely concerned with things like "student comfort" or "student safety" or with not getting sued) or Internet Forums (where moderators feel like they must have a reason for existing and find that in the exercise of moderator power).  But on the other hand that means that people who want to turn our WHOLE culture into a victimhood-based (rather than honor or dignity based) culture must by necessesity also wish to make our government be just as powerful, controlling and interfering in people's lives as the most ridiculous colleges or worst internet fora.

b) By its very nature, victimhood culture *can only really exist in societies where everyone is already very close to being equal*.  In a society where there are actual REAL marginalized groups, the authorities will inherently not care about those marginalized groups. They will favor the oppressors, which is why the marginalzied are marginalized in the first place. A truly racist society, for example, would never see a Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela complaining to his local police or government that he was deeply offended by something someone said about him that sounded racist and expecting that these authorities would take his side and shame the person he was accusing. It seems absurd to even imagine it.

Victimhood culture only really works in societies where no one is ever really victimized in actualy important ways anymore.


Currently Smoking:  Neerup Burlington Tomahawk & Burlington's Roanoke

Monday 14 September 2015

10th anniversary Classic Rant: Explaining Cthulhu's Scariness to People Made Too Stupid by Post-Modernism To Get It

First of all, for the Mythos to scare you the way it was meant to, you have to ask yourself "who am I?", you have to be capable of self-analysis.  Unfortunately, most people these days never even consider such a thing.  They might consider psycho-analysis, trying to figure out what habits they got because their mommy wouldn't let them eat ice cream for lunch; but they won't even consider the question of why we think, how we think, what our consciousness consists of. Descartes goes unnoticed.

The part where it gets scary is when you consider that you are the product of your experiences, of what you think and what you feel/see/hear/etc; and that you depend on these for your very identity. What the Mythos implies is NOT that a godzilla like monster is going to come to eat you; its that all of the human experience, everything you believe to be real, is actually a little bubble of illusion in a vast void of incomprehensibility, all of the assumptions you have about life and the world are wrong, and in fact there is no part of you that is real as you understand it.  The REAL things out there are the Elder Gods, primal forces of creation and destruction that have no relation to our human ideas at all.  They aren't like us, they're not even evil. And what's so dangerous about them is that they are true and we are not true.   They represent the utter meaninglessness of human beings; that not only do we personally not have any purpose or significance, but that the entire human species is purposeless and meaningless. This is the real "dying of the light".

Cthulhu is Buddhist Horror.

These concepts are very hard for someone who was only raised and educated in post-modernism to understand, even moreso with all the luxuries and distractions of modern society. Our modern world hides the reality of death; most of us don't encounter death on a daily basis other than on television, and we are slowly brainwashed into forgetting about worrying about it at all.  We are taught to ignore and forget the truth that one day we will die.  And it is this question of death, and this not knowing, which creates in us the analysis of our self-identity, where we end up creating either turning to faith in beliefs or developing convictions that are made to be our safeguard, our sense of purpose. Most people today don't have a real faith in anything, and lack real convictions. They are so badly fucked up in this regard that they couldn't even tell the difference between real convictions and mere whim, or between real faith and just partisanship from habit.

Ironically, the worst crime that post-modernism inflicts on society is that it makes it completely helpless against the kind of existential despair that Cthulhu is symbolic of.  Its only protection is to try to get people to ignore these questions about meaning, because post-moderism by definition is utterly incapable of offering any objective meaning to life. But as soon as something personally shocking occurs, people who only have post-modernism to rely upon find themselves virtually helpless to stand against this kind of crisis. And of course, if some kind of major disaster strikes society as a whole, society itself becomes incapable of dealing with this disaster in any significant way aside from turning to strongmen who do hold convictions, any convictions.  That's pretty much what happened in the US after 9-11.  They have no effective way of dealing with crisis, or fighting evil, because they have no way of defining anything as intrinsically good, meaningful, or even true.

Unfortunately, the real reason for Cthulhu's scariness (which is not that he's a big monster, or even his alienness, but that his existence represents the utter meaninglessness of humanity) is almost completely lost to most products of our modern society and educational system.  I hope maybe this has cleared up the issue with you a bit.


Currently smoking:  Neerup "burlington" Tomahawk +  Solani's Aged Burley Flake

(Originally posted January 4th, 2007)

Sunday 13 September 2015

Another Dark Albion Review!

I haven't got much time today, very busy weekend on the astral plane, so I'll just leave you all with another great review of Dark Albion, that pays attention to a couple of parts that other reviews had thus far only glossed over.


Currently Smoking:  Neerup Poker & Germain's Special Latakia Flake

Friday 11 September 2015

A Message to all the Would-Be Censors out There

Look, I get that it is really inconvenient for you to be called censors by people like me.  You know that word, even now in our society's extreme decadence, still has the capacity to turn people against you, and so you want to lie, manipulate, or use weasel-words to explain that even though you want to ban things and silence peopel you're somehow technically not a censor.  Or maybe it bothers you because there is still some vestige of principles hidden deep within  a lot of you, that makes you understand that you're actually monsters in terms of what you are doing when you are trying to silence other people.  And that this in turn makes you desperately want to try to find some excuse to justify yourselves. Because you know that you're actually the bad guys; that our whole culture has for the last couple of hundred years at least considered the people that want to FORCE others to think like them to be pretty much monsters because history has generally proved this true.  And ALL of those other assholes who used to do it always claimed they had the very best of reasons.  Pol Pot claimed he was doing his thing for social justice, and the guys who invented the Comics Code Authority felt they were just "showing the door" to all those terrible homosexuals, communists, and minorities who were "trying to corrupt America's youth".  In exactly the same way, you are trying to tell yourself that it's for everyone else's benefit (especially the vulnerable), and not just your own, that YOU personally get to decide what is best for everyone else.

But the thing is, I don't give a twopenny fuck about your moral conundrum.  If you really think that you know better than the rest of us as to what we should be allowed to read, buy or think, if you really believe that you somehow have that authority because of your education or class or just your totally unearned feelings of social superiority, then not only can you go fuck yourself with a spoon, you ABSOLUTELY DESERVE to be called out as a censoring totalitarian piece of shit over and over again at every opportunity.

And you can count on me to deliver, you gang of shitsacks.


Currently Smoking: Neerup Egg + Roanoke Island

Thursday 10 September 2015

If Wieck Couldn't Bring Himself to say Monte Cook Would be Safe From Banning...

So today there was a posting sent out to publishers where Steve Wieck gave a handful of answers to questions about his new Banning Policy (sorry, "offensive content policy", but let's call a spade a spade).

Quite a few people expressed relief at the notion that a game, once reviewed (and if not banned, of course) would be "whitelisted", meaning that it would not be subject for review ever again.  That's the promise, anyways. Note that "whitelisting" is the opposite of "blacklisting", which is the unspoken second half of this statement, the continued problem that some games WILL be banned because Wieck has gotten too much social pressure from the Outrage Brigade.

Now, here are two reasons why you should still really be worried about this situation:

1.  I had been in a conversation with Wieck over the last few days, where he gave some very noncommittal answers about whether the games regular gamers consider praiseworthy would be safe from the tiny gang of self-styled moral justicars who consider those games "toxic" (mostly because of who wrote them, since other games that feature way more 'offensive' ideas in terms of obscenity - stuff like child rape- are considered totally cool by this group because the 'right' person wrote them).
Wieck kept refusing to give a straight answer, so I posted a simple list to him.  I asked him to tell me if he could categorically assure me that any or all of these games would be safe from banning:

-Lamentations of the Flame Princess
-Zak Smith's products (Vornheim and Red and Pleasant Land)
-my products (Arrows of Indra and Dark Albion)
-Monte Cook's products (Numenera or The Strange)

I made a point of telling him that if he really wanted to calm the concerns of some of the people most ready to take radical action if they feel they are under threat, all he'd need to say is "yes, all these games are safe, none of them would be banned".

But he didn't do it.  He hemmed and hawed, he answered in the form of questions (like "do you really think we'd ban popular and award winning games"?), he said anything EXCEPT "yes, those games are safe".  Not even Monte Cook, it seems, is given a guarantee that his books will not be banned. And not just some theoretical future book, his existing titles, apparently, are under direct threat.

Why would Wieck refuse to say these products are safe, unless they were in fact very much not safe?

2. You could look at the above and say "well, I guess we'll just find out soon enough; those games will probably be among the first reported, and then they'll get whitelisted or not".   Besides that still suggesting a level of approval of a whole hideous and disgusting process that should not be, it's not as simple as that.

We got a claim today that a book, once cleared, would be secure.  But what is to say that if a book is whitelisted, and then enough of the Pseudo-activist Swine rise up in protest about it's being "approved of", Wieck won't change his mind? When they start to argue (not entirely without foundation) that by setting himself up as the judge of a game, his approval of a game that contains what they claim to be sexism or racism or homophobia would "prove" that Wieck himself is an "Enabler" of said sexism/racism/homophobia; when they start going around twitter calling Wieck a "Rape Culture Promoter" or "a protector of Racists", we are now supposed to believe that Wieck won't fold and ban a game he'd previously protected.

Except that this is already exactly what he did, with the 'tournament of rapists' game.

The problem is with the whole process.  It is flawed to the very core.  It would be flawed even if it didn't depend on us trusting the steadfastness of a man who has already turned on games whose right to sell he was vigorously defending only a day earlier.

Wieck refused to categorically assure the safety of LotFP or Vornheim or Dark Albion or Monte Cook's Numenera.
I guess at least he was being honest. As long as the course of his policy is based on the fundamental assumption is games should be banned if enough people complain about them online, none of these games are safe.


Currently Smoking: Dunhill Shell Diplomat +  Burlington's Philosopher's

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Dark Albion:The Church

So I thought I'd take a much-needed break from the OBS Censorship scandal, and get back to talking about Dark Albion!

So over at theRPGsite Q&A, someone has asked about just how much religion might have changed in Albion compared to real history, particularly given how significant the spiritual and political power of the Church was in this time.

Good question! Even though I've changed the religion from Catholicism to the "Church of the Unconquered Sun", the structure of said church is pretty much identical to that of medieval catholic church, with the exception of the existence of the Clerical Order (a militant order who are blessed with miraculous powers, and are answerable to the pontifex but do not fit into the rest of the church hierarchy and instead have their own parallel hierarchy; this was created so that all PC clerics are Clerics and not priests, and so that priests, bishops, pontifexes, etc. do not get clerical magic).

The rest of the hierarchy and influence of the Church is pretty much the same as it was in politics and society in the real world 15th century.  The majority of the important religious NPCs in albion are "albionized" versions of the real world historical figures that were around at that time. The list of Pontifexes that reigned in that period (and their various actions, some pious and many many corrupt and sinful ones) were taken directly from the Popes of the 15th century.

Shall we take a look at some of these?

Eugene IV: Bribed his way to the papacy. Murdered two hundred associates of the previous pope. Issued a papal bull declaring Portuguese slave-raids on the African coastline as a "crusade".

Pius II: writer of erotic stories/poetry in his spare time.

Paul II: made a jewel-encrusted tiara for himself on his ascension. Created 'secret cardinals' to thwart his political enemies. Imprisoned and tortured the same. Forced city jews to run naked through the streets during carnival. Died of a heart attack while engaging in sodomy with a page boy.

Sixtus IV: Embezzled the church to enrich his own family. Opened a papal whorehouse in Rome. Was infamous for nepotism at a time when papal nepotism was considered the norm. Gave attractive young men bishophrics in exchange for sexual favors. Re-affirmed the Portuguese right to enslave Africans.

Innocent VIII: Had sixteen illegitimate children. Took bribes from the Turkish Sultan. Issued a papal bull against witchcraft endorsing the beginning of the Witch Craze in europe that ultimately led to the death of thousands of innocents. Made de Torquemada Grand Inquisitor setting off the terrors of the Spanish Inquisition. Banned Pico della Mirandola's 900 theses and tried to have him executed as a heretic. Officially institutionalized Simony in the vatican bureaucracy to fund the construction of his summer house and hunting lodge.

So there you go; that was the qualities of the papacy of the 15th Century.

And finally for today, check out this great review of Dominique Crouzet's awesome Dark Albion adventure, "The Ghost of Jack Cade on London Bridge"!


Currently Smoking: Neerup Egg  & Longbottom Leaf

Tuesday 8 September 2015

Everyjoe Tuesday: Censorship Edition

Yes, I decided to take it to another level, and make OBS more famous to the non-roleplaying world.  And in the process, address once and for all this stupid claim that the pro-censorship side love to drag out there, that "only the government can censor"!

Go read the article to see just how we need to think of censorship, especially in our modern era where pro-censorship forces have become so much more insidious.


Currently Smoking: Neerup Poker & Longbottom Leaf

Monday 7 September 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: RPGPundit Gets All Philosophical About PCs

There's a fundamental question that's been on my mind for some time now: When you RP, can you possibly RP a character that is not you?

I mean, consider: pretty much every character one runs will be, initially, one of three types:

1. An aspect of your own persona, exaggerated.
For example, when I run the Roman senator Demetrius, I'm portraying the part of me that is the scheming self-justifying politician.  I realize that this is one little sliver of my own personality.  Likewise, when I play Smiley, the crazy boorish Scottish barbarian; at first sight he wouldn't seem much like me at all; but in reality Smiley is my own inner barbarian, the part of me that wants to act completely on impulse and be completely unconcerned with social mores.  In some player's cases, they will even be portraying characters that are almost 100% of themselves; I've known many a player where you see him, over and over again, playing himself as a Dwarf, himself as a Warrior, himself as a Jedi, etc etc.

2. A persona that has opposing traits to your own, but is really based on your own prejudices or perspectives about said traits.
For example, I could play someone who was a fanatical Nanny-state advocate social worker. But the way I would run him or her would be really based on my own identity's perspectives of what such a person is like.  Even if I tried to make it as favourable as possible, this would still be true. It would not be what they're really like, it would be how I view them as.

3. A character from pre-existing media.
I run Superman. Ok, fine; I didn't invent Superman; Superman has some pretty well-known traits, so you can definitely say that I'm not just playing a part of my own identity when I run Superman right?
Well... in fact, no.  You notice how when a new writer starts to write for Superman, what Superman is about changes? "Alan Moore's Superman" would be very different (and would instantly conjure up a very different mental image) from "Todd McFarlane's Superman".
Likewise, RPGPundit's Superman would end up being different in tack from JongWK's Superman or Jrient's Superman or Levi's Superman. And that difference would come from... you guessed it, your own persona.

So yes, I think at the get-go it is practically impossible to portray a character that isn't just you acting out your own persona (short of say, creating a character with totally mechanized pre-set or random responses to absolutely everything).
However, there is a moment that appears, with certain characters, when you play them long enough; where they start "doing things" on their own. Where it is no longer you the player/GM deciding what these characters would do, but rather they themselves that are doing things and often their reactions, which spring into your mind, take you by surprise.  Its that moment, the moment of surprise, when your characters have grown out of being just a product of your own Persona and have become their own personas.

This is why RPGs are better when played as long campaigns, and why micro-games fail at being good "deep" RPGs.  They try to mechanically simulate with dice rolls or gimmicky rules what you can only really accomplish through good long-term Roleplaying.


(Originally Posted December 7, 2006)

Friday 4 September 2015

Steve Wieck at OBS Won't Listen, So This is how WE Have to Stop Him

I tried, well beyond the call of courtesy, to speak with Mr. Wieck about the choices he was making, in selling his site over to the would-be censors, the pseudoactivists of the hobby who demand the RPGnow and DrivethruRPG should have to appease their growing demands that anything they personally find offensive be censored, and be censored immediately.  He has made it clear that he has no interest in reasoning with anyone who supports freedom of speech, and everything I've seen indicates to me that he is determined to go forward with a policy whereby anyone who claims offense will be able to have a product IMMEDIATELY pulled from OBS' shelves at the click of a button. This is a move that will assure considerable profit-damages to many publishers, particular Old School publishers who will be a target of the D&D-hating pseudoactivist mob. But more importantly, it will create a climate of fear: with no rules as to what constitutes "offense", with the possibility that ANY publisher's product could be taken down for no good reason at all with no defense permitted and not even any judgment until after the fact, the environment this will create will be exactly the one the psuedo-activists want: one where people will be terrified of writing or publishing any kind of game that could be even the slightest bit controversial, or potentially catch the ire of the censorious mob.

So, with all reasonable means to a solution apparently ineffectual, ALL of us must dedicate ourselves now to a more rigourous measure to fighting this move to censor the biggest marketplace in our hobby.  It's time we created a climate of fear, for any would-be censors out there.

There are three steps I propose that anyone who opposes this kind of censorship will need to take in order to fight back:

1. Publishers: Everyone who is an RPG publisher and who is afraid of being targetted by censors, or who values free speech even if they don't think they'd be hit (but if you don't think you'd be a potential target, you're being naive: these people went after Monte Cook, remember?) must follow Ben Franklin's old adage: "We must hang together, or else we will hang separtely".
We need to form a Solidarity Coalition.  In a post in response to this situation, James Raggi already publicly stated that if a single product of his was banned, he would pull his entire catalog from OBS. This is a good and noble gesture, but even a publisher as significant as LotFP, alone, would not stop OBS from implementing a pro-censorship policy.
What we need to do is to be signatories to a promise, coming together as a group, where if any of the products of ANY of those publishers who have signed to this coalition is censored, then ALL the undersigned publishers will pull ALL of their product from OBS.   Any one publisher won't scare OBS, but imagine if he loses all the OSR and quite a few other publishers in one foul swoop.  We must create a situation of assured destruction, where the cost of censorship of any single product will be too great to risk.

2. Businessmen: One or a group of people, whether publishers or otherwise, need to take advantage of this situation by getting ready to potentially launch a competitor site to OBS.  If OBS suddenly sees 20-30 of its hottest publishers drop it like a rancid turd, there would be a golden opportunity for someone to pick up the slack in the name of free speech, and create a PDF-sales site that would have everything OBS has plus a large number of publishers that OBS no longer gets to have because they decided to like banning books.

3. Everyone else: there's two things you could do. First, make it clear to OBS and Mr. Wieck that if they implement a pro-censorship policy you will refuse to purchase any further products on their site. You can contact them at, or

Second, you could think hard about just how easily offended you are.  If the policy that any offense will get a product taken down should happen to go through, I'm sure this means that, in fairness, Mr. Wieck WANTS you to be offended. So if a game or its author is offensive to you, if you can think of a reason (and really, if you think just a little, I'm sure you could find THOUSANDS of causes for offense), then you should go ahead and look at every game you can on OBS' shelves and click the "Report" button on any of those which you feel have offended you.  Maybe you're offended at the thought of malicious hats. Or maybe the notion of a world of darkness full of vampires is triggering to you.  Or heck, maybe you find the presence of overtly supernatural elements and the lack of a "chaotic Atheist" alignment in Wizards of the Coasts' products to be deeply offensive to your values.

The point is that if OBS wants to create a safe space, you should go out of your way to try to help them in that erstwhile quest to use the reporting function to purify the site of any and every product you can imagine holds offense to you. Of course, pay particular attention to those that might get missed by the other people already dedicated to the quest of telling everyone else what is best for them, and also to those really big publishers that bring in a lot of money, because I'm certain Mr. Wieck wouldn't want to be a hypocrite and make them feel that they would be immune to this policy.

So there you are: this is the response.  Up until now, a tiny tiny gang of complete assholes have managed to manipulate the hobby and push an agenda of censorship, blackballing and thought control because they operate as a mob, and the other side does not unite. We must now UNITE, and work together, if we want to make sure that they do not undo the hobby you love piece by piece.


Currently Smoking:  Ben Wade Canadian + Dunhill Early Morning