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Sunday 31 January 2016

Wild West: First Session (Wherein I Remember That My Players Are Racists)

Two weeks ago having been just for character-making, this time was the first session we actually played.

Let me say first: Latinos are profoundly racist. Especially toward other Latinos.  In the character creation process, I gave each player 5 chips which they could use to get a reroll on any of the 20 or so tables we were using to determine the character's origins and background.  Once a player ran out of chips, I warned them, they're stuck with whatever they get. And since some tables can be very important, they will want to be very careful not spend their chips away on something less important.

The very first table rolled was for place of origin; in that process, three chips were spent to avoid being Mexican.  One of my players actually rolled Mexican, spent a chip, rolled Mexican again and spent ANOTHER chip, just to avoid being Mexican.
That same player later accepted being Cuban, probably in part because he was running out of chips, but mainly because it would let him do the silly-sounding Cuban accent and play on Latin-american stereotypes of Cubans.
To be fair, one of the players also used a chip to avoid being from Indiana. Not totally sure why, something about it sounding too boring.
There was also someone who used a chip to avoid being an ex-slave, though that one was probably less overtly racist and more to do with having already had an idea what he wanted for his character and knowing that he wouldn't have a chance to achieve that by playing a former slave.

Anyways, it turned out that a fairly remarkable percentage of chips were used to re-roll an element related to race/ethnicity. Second highest was probably for rerolling to avoid a particularly low social-status. There was no special concentration of chips spent for any other mechanical type of details (not, for example, to re-roll the background profession that would determine your starting skills, which in terms of pure mechanics had way more weight than race or social status).  So I guess my players were, if nothing else, clear that they were thinking of this campaign as one where the roleplaying elements of it would be at least as significant as the mechanics of it. Which of course is true.
But they were also pretty racist.

If you are an expat living in a country that isn't in North America or Western Europe, you have to remind yourself sometimes that outside of these places, people didn't spend their entire lives being indoctrinated in a concept of multiculturalism that turns it into an intense taboo to make fun of other ethnicities or nationalities; so in Canada, even if some people might think some of these things and maybe say them with very trusted friends, they would never do these sorts of things in a more open social environment like an RPG table with some people they barely know in it.  But in South America (Uruguay is no special case, you'd see all the same stuff in Argentina, Chile, or indeed Mexico or Cuba), or Eastern Europe, or anywhere in Asia or Africa, people don't have the same indoctrination.  The bad part of this is that they will stun their north-american expat friends by risking the rest of their PC's viability just to avoid being Mexican (and keep in mind I made it clear that in the Wild West, while Mexicans were not looked upon quite as well as an anglo-saxon, they were in fact probably less prejudiced against than they are in the U.S. today); of course the good part of this is that if a gang of migrants were mass-raping women in a public plaza, Uruguayan men would not be standing around impotently too worried about being thought of as racist to stop the rapes from happening.  So, you get the good with the bad: South Americans are sometimes prejudiced in ways that seem both silly, ignorant and distasteful, but they also still have some kind of sense of personal convictions and moral courage and that backbone that the "proper" 1st-world West has almost completely lost.  Would that some happy mid-point were possible!

Anyways, we ended up with a Cuban, two Kentuckians, a pair of guys from Illinois, and a Mormon. The Mormon, incidentally, is a gambler by profession, but he doesn't drink alcohol or coffee and doesn't stay up late nights. Probably the most awesome wild-west character imaginable.  We actually have a lot of archetypes filled: there's the one guy who is stupidly awesome at gun-fighting (or will be as soon as he gets a little bit of experience), the oddly straight-laced gambler, the Cuban guy who is a total outsider with crazy notions, the punk kid from a broken home who ran away to become a bounty hunter, the guy looking to make his fortune opening a butcher's shop, and the mostly-normal guy who is slightly better educated than the rest of them and will probably end up being their leader.

The first session (which, after finishing off character creation and giving everyone a detailed briefing of common knowledge and laws and social codes in the west, ended up only being a couple of hours long) ended in the first shootout, with the PCs having just arrived in Dodge City penniless and a few of them deciding to face down an outlaw (who had already killed one sheriff & a deputy and injured a second sheriff), for the sake of a $240 reward (which for them seemed an outrageous amount of money).  The fight was good, intense, but ended with the group gang-rushing the outlaw and pinning him down after he ran out of bullets.  The main players in the shootout now gets to become the deputy for the fat and useless town marshall, promising him a lot of life-risking action in the future.  The other characters are still on their way to figuring out their place in the frontier.

Along the way they met a young Wyatt Earp who is already haunted and thinks he's quit the lawman business for good, an even younger Morgan Earp who is just starting to follow in his older brother's footsteps, a county sheriff that seems like the very icon of everything good or noble about the law, a saloon gal with a heart of gold but who's tough as nails, a surly country doctor, and a goofy one-eyed country-bumpkin sidekick.

It seemed like a good start. Aside from the latino-on-latino racism.


Currently Smoking:  Italian Redbark + Gawith's Winter Flake

Saturday 30 January 2016

Preview, Sort Of...

Today I haven't got much for you, because I'm busy writing a review.

Which review?  It's for the game that has this:

Looks cool right?  I bet you can't guess what it is (without cheating - and you know if you cheated)!

Stay tuned for it, probably in another 8 weeks or so at the rate I'm going.


Currently Smoking:  delicious pastries + yerba mate

Friday 29 January 2016

When I Get Awesome Books

I was just about to get some sleep (at about 2pm), when the front gate of The Abbey rang; it was the mailman and I just got some new books.

As it turns out, they were DCC books!

Among them, the 998th Conclave of Wizards! This looks like it's going to be hilarious to eventually run in my Last Sun campaign.

Also, The Monster Alphabet, which looks like a great resource.  An A-Z of special tables for monster generation or details around monsters.  Great stuff.

It'll be months before either of these or the other things I got today get to review, but since these looked especially cool to me, I thought I'd link them here.


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

Thursday 28 January 2016

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: In Defense of the Long Campaign

So recently its been commented on theRPGsite that some people prefer short campaigns because long campaigns often have the unfortunate tendency to "peter out"; they overstretch themselves, and then collapse, going out not with a great bang but an unsatisfying whimper.

Now, no one can deny that this is a phenomenon that happens. Its happened to me several times, and I consider myself (and have been considered by others to be) a fairly experienced and talented GM.

My Roman Campaign and my Chinese campaign both suffered from this sad fate.

However, I will always hold to the position that longer campaigns are simply more satisfying. They are undoubtedly worth the risk, every time. 

First, a skilled GM can try to resolve this problem; often, if he's smart about it, he can catch on and save a game. This happened with my Legion campaign, which at one point was at risk of "petering out", but I did some retooling and now I can proudly say its back to being a spectacular game.
Barring that, you can often at least catch the decline and "wrap up" the campaign in a way that becomes satisfying to all involved. My D&D Classic campaign went this way, it was very near the end already (with the PCs having reached or nearing their maximum levels), but I could see the decline, and decided that rather then slogging it out at the pace we were going the smarter thing was to wrap up the game with a really big spectacular finish, and its one that my players remember very fondly as the feather in the cap of that excellent campaign.

But even if a campaign fails utterly at the end, as was the case in my Roman and Chinese games, in the process you end up getting so much out of the game that the good experiences greatly outweigh the bad. My players and I may have been saddened at how those two campaigns ended, but they will never forget how excellent those campaigns were for the first 90% of their lifespans. The moments of intense character development, the lengthy plot arcs, the NPCs, the moments of utter glory that PCs had when ambitions they'd been playing through for years and years of the campaign came to pass, all of that makes these games great successes, despite how they ended.

With a long-term campaign you simply have the opportunity to do so much more in terms of developing the characters, and the world, and the backstory and the history in actual play; so that the campaign develops a kind of emulation and the players develop a level of immersion that is utterly impossible in a shorter game.

My current Amber campaign has been going for about 20 sessions now, and is truly at that "sweet spot" where the game, and the setting, and the characters, have taken on lives of their own. Secrets that were established at the very beginning of the campaign are just now starting to be revealed. The Big Bad of the campaign is just now beginning to be truly understood. In yesterday's session, Alejo's character found out who his father was, after 20 sessions of not knowing. Cristian's character built up through a series of conflicts and errors to where he has been exiled from Amber. Jong's character is only really beginning to understand his father, and is finally beginning to receive the training in a power that he'd been seeking pretty much the entire campaign. Facets of the NPCs are revealing themselves in new ways. Every session is spectacular, and my players often comment on how much they "can't wait" for the next session to come along.

Of course, I hope this Amber campaign (and my Legion campaign which is on its 3rd year now, and my Pendragon campaign which is finishing its 2nd year) will end on a high note. But if it doesn't, if it "fails" to end well, every one of these campaigns will still be a resounding success, far more satisfying than if I'd spent the last year or two years or three years playing a bunch of short little campaigns in a row.

The long term game is always worth it.


Currently Smoking: Neerup poker + Gawith's Winter Flake

(Originally posted March 29, 2009)

Tuesday 26 January 2016

Everyjoe Tuesday: Political Refugee Edition

Today on Everyjoe, the story of how I almost became a political refugee. No, not from some third-world shit-hole, but from what was once one of the most serious democracies in the world.

As always, please read, retweet, etc.!


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Poker + H&H Beverwyck

Monday 25 January 2016

Chaos vs. Law in Dark Albion (as Opposed to WFRP)

Some people have criticized Dark Albion for not being 'chaos-threatening' enough.  Sure, there's an entire kingdom of chaos monsters in control of a major area just across the pond from Albion, but (according to these people) chaos seems too distant and/or too manageable.

Their argument is that Chaos should be more like it is in Warhammer: this vile insidious force that inexorably pushes against the realms of Law, that is almost destined to consume the world, against which nations of Law (and the PCs) can only at most fight a holding action.  The Call of Cthulhu school of cosmological disaster, I guess.

(look at this cover: this is supposed to be the cover of the holy warriors and good guys. Seriously)

But it's true. Albion isn't like that. Chaos is different in Albion, the balance of power between Chaos and Law is different. And I'll explain why:

Dark Albion tries to be a medieval-authentic RPG.  WFRP does not. 

Dark Albion is simply better at representing the world as it was back then, and not just because Albion's "the Continent" is closer physically to historical Europe than WFRP's "the Old World".

No, I'm talking about differences in the Moral Universe here.

WFRP, like most RPGs, is ultimately presenting a world that may have more or less elements of historical reference to our own world (WFRP's setting has a few more than, say, Greyhawk), but that is viewed from a moral/philosophical lens totally rooted in our own 20th century viewpoints.

D&D's is one of a highly modernist, relativist, baby-boomer hippie type of view of some kind of cosmic balance around which the 9 alignments are all completely evenly matched.

WFRP's is a more post-modernist, post-hippie and utterly cynical viewpoint that dominates our current paradigm. You could call it 'apocalyptic' but in fact for reasons I will bring up later that'd be totally wrong. It's just nihilistic. It is the view that is left to us when we are taught that nothing is actually true, nothing is actually worthy of being maintained, nothing can be held up and only naive idiots think anything is worth fighting for, except maybe for tearing down and destroying everything.  In WFRP you play the 'good guys' but you actually root for the bad guys. The lords of Chaos are the cool ones, as everyone knows, but more importantly they're the ones who are RIGHT. Law is a sucker's bet. It's doomed. And so all the paladins and heroes who fight for law are basically morons, and this is part of the (civilization-hating) joke.

It's not in any way a medieval view. Or early modern, or enlightenment, or victorian. It is a moral paradigm that can only possibly exist in this utterly spoiled generation of self-hating westerners.

But I'm not here today to rant about post-modernism. I'm here to explain what's different in Dark Albion.  In Albion, the moral universe itself is MEDIEVAL.  It is based on a world-view, and I'll note that this is the ONLY way that you can effectively roleplay a culture that would be medieval-authentic, that holds that Law is actually much more powerful than Chaos.

Chaos wins when it manages to subvert or undermine Law, or when people who serve Law turn away from it. Or when they fight amongst themselves, as is happening in Albion during the setting period (where Chaos creatures, sects, and dark magic that had not been seen in Albion proper in centuries are coming back to infringe upon civilized lands because of the Chaos being generated by the Rose War).

But as a cosmic force, Law is supreme. Chaos is legion and divided; so in my game you never see the various agents of Chaos really co-operating as it's just not in their nature (and likewise, what this means is that no two demons are quite the same, nor are any two chaos cults the same).  But Law is only ONE. There is only one true God of Law; on the Continent he's the Unconquered Sun, in the lands of the Turk he's the Crescent Moon (though the common folk don't realize its the same deity), and in other places he may have other names but he's really just a single force.
It was very important to me, even if I didn't want to use Christianity as such for other reasons, that the setting be MONOTHEISTIC.  You can totally have a medieval paradigm with or without many things, but you can't take out the monotheism and still really be anywhere near the mark.

Part of the medieval paradigm is triumphalism: God will win over chaos. Even the apocalyptic movements, preaching disaster and lamenting the growth of evil in the world, are all ultimately prophesying  a time when The Man Comes Around and there'll be trumpets and pipers and a hundred million angels singing and the Righteous will be Righteous still and the filthy will be filthy still. That's why I say WFRP is NOT 'apocalyptic' in the medieval sense, because it is a nihilist apocalypse of Chaos consuming everything, not a true Apocalypse in the religious sense where Law triumphs and establishes a Kingdom that will Reign Forever.

So what does this mean in actual play? Doesn't it make actual play more lame? After all if you are playing in a universe where Law is way more powerful you know that ultimately the Unconquered Sun will triumph and set things right so why fucking bother?

I think you have to look at it the opposite way: in WFRP, nothing you do matters. In the end you know Slaneesh and Nurgle and company are going to end up devouring everything and any effort you make is for nothing. You will die sooner or you will die later but eventually everyone loses.  It is naive and stupid to serve Law in that setting.

In Dark Albion, the tragedy is that man falls to Chaos. It's not a tragedy in WFRP, it's just a foregone conclusion and probably the smart bet. In Dark Albion, the fact that it doesn't actually have to happen makes it MUCH MUCH WORSE that the Frankland Kings were so weak and decadent that they let their lands be taken away from them by the Frogmen. It makes it so much worse that Vlad Tepes, who was hailed as the greatest living hero of the Unconquered Sun by the Pontifex, would as he lay dying following betrayal at his own brother's hands, not look up and be ready for Union with the Sun but instead whisper a prayer of revenge to dark forces that they might make him their champion all so that he could, in his pride and wrath, slaughter and feast on the blood of those who betrayed him and his land.  It makes it so much more awful that in Albion, cousins are engaging in brutal war with each other and bringing the land into anarchy so that Goblins and elves and the living dead begin to come back from the lonely places and infringe on the work that ages and great kings had wrought to push Chaos back.

In WFRP, any of the above would just be par for the course. It would just be what should happen, cosmologically speaking; what makes sense in that world.  In Dark Albion, its horrific because it is an anomaly and an abomination against Law.

(In WFRP, the Chaos menace is from an army of 20000 beastmen or something; in Dark Albion this moment right here is the 'chaos menace')

The menace of Chaos in Albion isn't that it is way more powerful than Law, it doesn't immediately threaten to overwhelm us all. The menace of Chaos in Albion is found in the weakness of men, and the tragedy of failing to live up to duty. The worst kind of tragedy is the preventable tragedy. This is Sin, in the especially medieval pre-Luthor view; the world is not inextricably evil (like the Gnostic heretics would have you believe), but rather the kingdom of god we could make here on Earth is thwarted by that weakness within one's heart that rejects virtues and falls to vices.
Defeating Chaos means doing that which is hard but which is right.

And in actual play, your characters can of course end up being killed by Chaos. At the skirmish level Chaos is incredibly dangerous. If you play an Inquisitor group and go looking for Chaos the assumption is you won't get to be an old man who dies in his bed. But (unlike in WFRP) what you are doing ACTUALLY MAKES SENSE. It actually MEANS something. There's actually a point to it. You are agents of Law out to set things right.
Of course you can still be mercenaries in it for yourselves in the game, but even there it is also made more significant by virtue of the fact that what you do totally matters more. Even if you choose to play a servant of Chaos it matters more (because there should be a bigger reason for siding with Chaos, or a more significantly personal one, in a setting where Chaos is not actually the stronger power).
What you do has MEANING, in the medieval paradigm. You are tremendously important because the world itself is infused with meaning. Whereas in WFRP (and most RPG settings) what you do has no real meaning to the larger cosmos. In games like Greyhawk or the FR, it all just balances out; whereas in WFRP (like in CoC) the universe is utterly meaningless.

The medieval worldview is a world where things matter. It is a world where everything has meaning. It makes individuals living under that paradigm much more significant and conversely much less self-centered than in our post-modern paradigm that says nothing at all is meaningful except your most immediate feelings and impulses.

So this is the difference. WFRP is a 20th century setting in renaissance drag. Dark Albion is a medieval/early-renaissance setting for reals.


Currently Smoking: Neerup Bent Billiard + Image Latakia

Sunday 24 January 2016

I Still Keep Getting Nice Notes About Liking Dark Albion

So it's been months since it's been out and I still get (and love to get) people's praise for Dark Albion!

Here's one from Jonathan Miller:

"I recently purchased yourDark Albion, and I must say it's excellent. This is the D&D setting book that I have been waiting for since I first found D&D as a lad. The rules for demon summoning are especially useful. Gygax made a gesture towards historical demon summoning in the AD&D Players Handbook, with the Torment spell (IIRC), but your system is superior for several reasons--among them, that it can be employed by low and middle level magic-users (as opposed to having to wait to cast a 7th level spell--again IIRC), and that it represents historical magic much more faithfully. There are so many other things about Dark Albionthat are great--the effective use of period and other public domain art; the detailed gazetteer; the provision of historical detail without being overwhelming; the inclusion of rules tweaks and additions that reflect the setting without distorting the game too much; and the sample adventure locations. I'm still digesting it but it's the best RPG book I've bought in a long time."

  I have to say that I love seeing this, seeing people enjoying the book and getting why it's different and awesome. And to Jonathan, I will say: if you liked the way magic was handled in Albion, stay tuned for the upcoming Dark Albion: Cults of Chaos book, which will give the same fantasy-medieval treatment to heresies, witchcraft, spirits, familiars, mutations and elves!

Watch for it sometime in the first half of this year.


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

Saturday 23 January 2016

DCC Campaign Update: Pepito the Talking Rat

In this week's action-packed adventure, the party found themselves resting up a bit in the City of Reasonably Efficient Plumbing, as guests of the Supreme Council of the Presbyterian Church.  They'd just gone through enormous effort to save Alice, a young girl who's possibly the last surviving Ancient, from being murdered by Gnomes. Of course, unbeknownst to them, the latest addition to their numbers is none other than the nefarious Bill the Elf, in yet another new body! He is on a mission from Sezrekhan to kidnap Alice.


-3 guys appeared. Never doubt the GM's ability to explain how 3 guys appear where they have no sensible reason to.

-A couple of PCs run into Pepito the talking rat, who tells them that he knows the location of a dungeon that guards the last surviving Wish Parasite.

-They learn that a Wish Parasite is a kind of particularly ugly worm that, if eaten, will grant you a single Wish.  They also hear that a Wish is like a 9th level spell, which in a world that has no spells higher than 5th level is very impressive.

-Pepito won't talk when presented to the Presbyterian Council, leading the Presbyterians to wonder if the Dwarf Wizard (who brought him) was really not so much destined to be teleported to a dungeon as he was destined to be committed to a mental health facility.

-"The Ancient Girl can imagine she's deciding for herself about where she wants to go, she has just as much of an illusion of free will as the rest of us do."

-"Blade", aka Bill the Elf, tries to take Alice to see Sezrekhan; first by some ridiculous efforts at sign language and then by pretending to cry. He doesn't speak Ancient and she doesn't speak Common, or he'd have understood when she told him that actually she wants to go see Sezrekhan, and that he should man the fuck up.

-Finally, he calls in a Service Presbyterian who can speak Ancient, and tries to cast Charm on her.
"You rolled a 20. You definitely Charm the Service Presbyterian; do you want to Charm Alice too?"
"No, I mean she already wants to go with me, so I don't need to mentally control her to force her to come.. aw, fuck it, sure!"

-When Bill tries to Invoke Sezrekhan, he fails his saving throw and goes into an insane bloodlust. When he comes out of it, he's sliced the Service Presbyterian in half, and murdered Alice.
"You ran Alice right through with your vampiric blade, she's dead."
"Are you sure? I check her pulse!"

-Bill's plan to avoid getting the blame for this involves writing "Bill Did This" in blood on the wall, and then throwing himself out a window.

-Sezrekhan is, to say the least, not pleased. He threatens to rain meteors on the entire city and to destroy Bill's phylactery; but he's willing to give Bill 24 hours to accomplish the seemingly impossible and somehow save Alice.  After all, 6th level henchmen are hard to come by, even if they've fucked up every major mission.

-"Don't you see that if we work together we can achieve more?"
"You've achieved NOTHING!"

-The Prebyterians find the corpses, and quickly inform the rest of the PCs: "You must come quickly! A terrible tragedy was always meant to happen right now!"

-"So you saw Bill the Elf kill Alice... how did you know he was Bill?"
"Um... before he threw me out the window he said 'I'm Bill'!"

-"OK, let's stop vainly looking for inconsistencies in Blade's story and go do this Wish Parasite thing!"

-"Bill's had some good plans, but they never seem to come through.  Come to think of it, Bill's mishaps have become the main driving force of the campaign."
"It's not just Bill, it's all of us. We're on a neverending quest to fix our last fuckups!"

-"Well, you do have a purpose: you guys usually stop a Really Horrible thing from happening, by making merely Horrible things happen instead".

-The PCs get teleported to the dire mountains, on the northern continent which separates the Sea of Grass and the Mad Kingdoms.  Guided by Pepito the Rat, they find their way to a mountain; after some effort they discover that part of the cliff-side is actually an illusory wall.

-Pepito suggests that although the wall feels very solid, the PCs might be able to get through it by running right at it at high-speeds, "Harry Potter-style".

-Ack'Basha tries to murder Pepito the Talking Rat!
"You crazy man! You been staring too long into the abyss, man!"

-When the other players object, he casts Word of Command to prove his suspicions, and true enough, when ordered to "CONFESS!" Pepito admits that he's actually a wizard who got permanently polymorphed into a rat, and was going to steal the Wish Parasite after the PCs did all the hard work, to wish to become a Daemon.

-Ack'Basha strangles Pepito to death. This time no one objects.

-The PCs get past the illusory wall (all except BOLT-O who apparently can't because he's a robot), and there find themselves attacked by a pair of onyx living-statues dressed as samurais!

-Meanwhile, BOLT-O and the one PC who stayed outside, a 0-level barbarian fire-maker, end up encountering another adventuring party! They call themselves the Super Adventure Buddies, and consist of three Hipster Elves named Peter, Geoffrey and and Archie, and a Sloth disguised as an elf (who goes by the name of Arturo "Hot Rod" Rodriguez).

-Figuring the party needs more cannon fodder, they team up with the Super Adventure Buddies; but in the fight with the living statues the elves prove to be as useless as everyone assumed they would be. All three elves trip and fall in the dirt when they try to hit anything. "Hot Rod" is pretty handy with a 9mm automatic, though.

-The party moves on to find a bunch of Troglodyte guards, and a brutal battle ensues.  In it, the party starts dropping like flies.

-Dwarf Wizard: "Every wizard is an asshole but me"
Butler: "So, every wizard is an asshole, then?"

-Moments after his contentious claim, the Dwarf wizard gets wasted.  Ack'basha, protected as usual by his Holy Sanctuary spell, loots the wizard's corpse in mid battle.

-Some of the party managed to flee outside, where Bolt-0 was waiting.
Ropework: "I know that feeling."

-With almost all his allies dead or fled, Ack'basha is left with no choice but to actually fight now, so he uses divine aid to create a ring of fire that immolates most of the Troglodytes.
"You realize this is just Sequester in reverse, right? Ack'basha has literally become the anti-Bill".

-Geoffrey, the last surviving actual elf of the Super Adventure Buddies, manages to actually kill one Trog before getting impaled by another Trog. Then Kragnar impales the Trog, in a "grotesque daisy chain of death".

-Bill/Blade meanwhile had hidden himself and went into the Trog house, only to find another 30 or so trogs, most of them women and children.  Being familiar with humanoid behaviors at this point, the party take no chances and burn down the house with all in it.

-"See? What can't be solved by religious genocide?"

-In the battle, the fake-elf/sloth "Hot Rod" has slipped away. This before Ack'basha could paranoically murder him. He's a clever sloth.

-The surviving PCs continue, eventually reaching a cavern where they encounter an old companion who had been lost for a while, the Blog-Swine named Chu. It appeared the Troglogdytes had strung him up to be offered as some kind of blood sacrifice, but to what was not clear.

-They use Second Sight to play 'hot & cold' as to what's the closest direction to their goal, but it leads them into a room that appears to be empty. That is, until they figure out there's yet another illusory wall.

-Krognar the Fire-Maker decides to run right through the wall, and he does, and right into the eruptive fire-trap behind the illusion. Ironically, the Fire-Maker is burned to death.

-They find themselves in what appears to be another dead end, until they realize there's another false wall, which instead of being an illusion is actually a trap, as it collapses on top of Ropework.

-The wall reveals a large central chamber, featuring a pool of shit surrounded by a magic circle of runes (not 'weird shit' or something like that, I mean literal feces).

-Chu throws a coin in the pool of shit, and nothing happens. Then he throws a coin onto the runes, disrupting the circle, and the pool of shit turns into Orgluz the Shit Demon!  Fortunately for the party, it seems that Orgluz is now bound to serve Chu. Chu is of course quite pleased to have a massive pile of shit at his side.

-The liberation of the poop demon also opened yet another secret door, which Orgluz claims will lead them to the Wish Parasite, and their chance to save Alice. So, on the party will go.

But not today, as we had to end there for the day.

Stay tuned for more adventures shortly!


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

Friday 22 January 2016

Magick Always Comes With A Price

So, we have Free Speech preserved in Canada, and people won't be able to have you imprisoned for disagreeing with them on Twitter.

But, we also won't get any Doctor Who in 2016.

Sorry guys.


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

Thursday 21 January 2016

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: GMs are Not for Entertaining?

Recently, there had been some talk in certain Storygames circles about how shall they ever deal with the "problem" that some gamers have about perceptions of the GM, about how to re-educate gamers to "get it" that the GM isn't supposed to an "entertainer" of the party.

What?! That's exactly what the GM is supposed to be doing. Yes, the players should not expect to be passive in this, and should not be trying to thwart the party's fun; but its really the GM who's purpose it is to make sure EVERYONE has fun, and who's job it is to provide the premise of the night's entertainment.

If one player isn't having fun, it might be that player's problem, but if all the players are not having fun, its the GM's problem.

If, as the Storygamer Swine would seem to want, the GM was not the one who gets to entertain, then what's the fucking point of being GM?

I really don't know what the fuck their massive problems with GMs and GM-roles are, I've speculated sometime that it comes down to some bad GM having tried to entertain himself instead of the party, at the players' expense, and that this makes some frustrated players turn into GM-castrating Forge Swine, but really that's only a theory. What is clear is that what they want, and will not rest till they achieve, is for the GM to be reduced to nothing more than the Monopoly banker, only he doesn't get to play, either. So its meant to become a dull chore, the least likable part of the gaming party. Being a GM is what the Storygaming Swine wants to force you to do if they want to punish you, apparently.

Taking away the joy (and the power required to make that joy a reality) of providing fun for a whole group of people for an evening is essentially the agenda of a group of people who want the GM job to be boring, lifeless drudgery. Perhaps its due to the resentment of not getting their way too often, perhaps because they lack the talent to be GMs, its hard to know. What's clear is just how retarded their policies, really, their recipes for discord and misery, really are.


Currently Smoking: Castello 4K Collection Canadian + Image Latakia

(Originally Posted April 3, 2009)

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Pictures From Uruguay! Holiness and Sinfulness

Today, a bit of the extremes of the beauty of the spirit and the pleasures of the flesh you can find in my own neighborhood (the Cordon), in Montevideo.

First, the holiness! Some pictures of the local church:

As any regular reader knows, I'm not a Christian, but you have to admire the architecture of the stunning Latin American Churches.

And now, the truly sinful:

This is one of countless delicious confections made from one of the several local bakeries found in a three-block radius of my house.  Local bakeries are one of the most fantastic features of living here.

The filling inside the pastry is Dulce de Leche, of course, which Uruguayans say was invented in Uruguay.  Argentinians say it was invented in Argentina, but you can't believe anything an Argentinian says.


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

Tuesday 19 January 2016

Dark Albion: Rain... the Deadliest Enemy!

We all know that England is famous for raining, an awful lot. The Dark Albion setting, being a fantasy version of England, is no different!

(this is what they call one of the lovelier summer days)

Now, I know what you're thinking, a little rain never hurt anyone, right? True, but a lot of rain can be positively deadly for a medieval party on the road.

First though, let's figure out how often it rains, and where.
This is an important image to check out, although its contemporary and not medieval, but even if the numbers would be slightly off the general pattern would still be mostly correct:

Take note that some areas, specifically the mountainous areas, and the less populated regions, have heavier rainfall. There are two important things to note in this: first, it is not a coincidence that the area of heaviest population is also where there is less rain.  Too much rain makes a place less livable.

Second, and important for Albion campaigning, the isolated wilderland places are the places that get the worst rainfall!

In the period where Dark Albion is set, Europe was at the start of a slow but steady cooling period that would end up having major climate effects on the population.  One of the reasons for this was that with the cooling period came increased rainfall.  The "little ice age" caused serious decrease in crop yields and increase in famine that kept Europe from being able to repopulate after the devastation of the Black Death, and there is ample historical/archaeological evidence of mass abandonment of villages in highland regions throughout the British Isles in this period. Entire communities ceased to exist because of this.

Now, we can't get specific information on medieval weather patterns at the level we're used to today, but this being an RPG and not a history lesson, we can wing it with an approximation.  See the brown areas on the map above? Let's say that during the summer period there's a chance of 2/6 that on any given spring/summer day it'll be raining.  If you wanted to be more precise you could maybe switch that to 4/10 in springtime, and 2/10 in summer or early autumn.

The non-brown areas would get rain on a 3/6 on any given day; or if you prefer, 5/10 in springtime, 3/10 in summer/autumn.

In either case, if you generate a rainy day, there's a subsequent chance of 4/6 that it's only a partially rainy day (it only rains lightly, for only a few hours); otherwise, it's heavy rain, that lasts throughout most of the day.

Why does all of this matter?

When it's raining, especially if it's been raining heavily, or over several days without ceasing to give time for things to dry, there are several problematic results for adventurers on the go. First, the dampness can affect equipment: under heavy rain, bowstrings (regular and crossbow) and other equipment can become unusable. Even arrows can be wrecked by rain as they absorb the damp and become heavier. Now, most bowstrings would be treated with beeswax to make them more resistant to rain, and quivers were made to be closed and sealed as waterproof as was possible at the time. But this does not completely prevent the harm, only mitigate it.  When it's raining, bowstrings have to be removed, and arrows sealed up. This means that if the PCs don't do this for some reason, there's a very high chance (4/6?) that their missile weapons will be wrecked.  Adventurers in this period should know about this, though, and if they were smart would take precautions; but this means that in the case of a random encounter, they won't have their missile weapons ready for action.

And of course, if your PCs are of the lucky rich sort to have firearms, this is at least as big a problem when it comes to gunpowder. If your powder gets damp, it won't fire. In seriously wet conditions, even if you've taken care to store your powder and pistol/rifle carefully, there's a 4/6 chance that a gun will simply fail to fire.

Even if you manage to get a shot off, be it with bow or with powder weapon, firing in the rain should cut your range by half.  Note that visibility is seriously decreased in the rain as well, by one-third in light rain to one-half in heavy rain, so the range reduction becomes partly academic.

Are your PCs travelling with a cart to take all their extra equipment there, and all their loot back home?  Remember that only the most significant of main roads had any kind of protection from rain; if they're going on most medieval roads, rainfall will muddy up the whole place, and reduce travel times by half as well. There'll be an additional 1/6 chance every hour of travel that the cart will get stuck in the mud and require strength checks to push/pull it out.

 Horses are elegant creatures, but if its raining heavily they won't be able to go on most terrain at more than a walk; and if you try to charge with a horse at an enemy in the rain, some type of check will be required to avoid disaster.

Are the PCs traveling in the mountains?  Rains can cause mudslides. Any time that its been raining for at least two days in a row, there's a 1/10 chance every day of heavy rain of getting caught in one while in mountainous areas. A saving throw is required to avoid getting knocked down by one and taking 3d6 points of damage (if you're on a horse, there could be additional damage from falling off).

Are the PCs heading to a river? Rains can cause rivers to flood. Any time there's been rainfall for more than five days in a row, or heavy rainfall for three days in the past week, there's a 4/6 chance that the river will have flooded, making crossing almost impossible (except perhaps at major bridges).

Can your PCs manage to get to a town? That will sure be good for their survival in the rain. If not, they're stuck trying to build a fire and shelter in pretty sub-optimal conditions.

Wilderness survival skills must be rolled, at a penalty depending on light or heavy rain, to successfully build a fire.  If you can't do it, then even in the summer night, heavy rain can cause bitter and harmful cold.

Any time that a PC sleeps outside in rain (light or heavy) without some kind of shelter and the warmth of a fire, there's a 1/20 chance of becoming ill.  This would be some type of flu, most likely, but remember that back then this was a pretty dangerous thing to get, without adequate rest and medical attention.
Saving throws should be rolled to recover, with penalties if the PC is not able to get rest (in a warm and DRY environment!) and bonuses if they are getting attended by a doctor. Failing would mean that the disease evolves into life-threatening pneumonia, which would leave the PC flat on their back for at least a week or two, and would require further saves to avoid decline of Constitution and possibly death.

Now of course, snow is as dangerous as rain, at least, and even colder. And in this period it certainly snows in Albion during the winter (with the cold getting worse as the campaign period progresses). But there's a simple reason why we focus on rain and not snow: you'd have to be INSANE to go traveling through wilderness in the winter.  That's something to remember in your campaign in itself: PCs should spend the winter close to home, and not out adventuring; travel would only be short and in safe areas (safe being defined in this period not as actually safe, but as places where you could get from one village/castle to another in under a day of winter travel).  If your PCs insist on going out adventuring in mid-winter, feel free to hit them with everything they deserve.


Currently Smoking: Raleigh Hawkbill + Image Perique

Monday 18 January 2016

Strings of Words That Would Have Made You Seem Crazy in 2010

Presidential Front-runner Donald Trump

Political-Activist Film-maker Michael Bay

Flamboyantly Gay Beloved Conservative Hero Milo Yiannopoulos

Those were from a Twitter post I made the other day, I'll add one more here:

D&D Consultant and Hobby Visionary the RPGPundit

How quick the world changes.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia

Sunday 17 January 2016

RPGPundit Reviews: Daytrippers (core rules & gamemaster guide) PART II

So this is part II of my review of the RPG "Daytrippers"; this time I'll be looking at the Gamemaster's Guide.  If you haven't read part I yet, you may want to do that first.

The GM's guide, as mentioned in Part I, is made in a very similar format to the Core Rules, but it's considerably larger at nearly 120 pages.  But what does it offer?  Will it successfully fill out the setting touched on in the Core Rules?

When we open the GM book, the first thing we see is a two-page essay on surrealism and surreal sci-fi. The key here is that the designer intends for the surrealism of the setting is that "reality itself becomes part of the terrain being explored". He invokes Stanley Weinbaum (who was considered the first sci-fi author to create aliens that were intentionally incomprehensible), Jack Vance, Philip K. Dick, and others.  The designer creates a parallel between surrealist oracular techniques and RPGs' random tables.

A lot of this sounds very pretentious and the designer hammers this home when he says that what you're doing as a Daytrippers GM is "Art with a Capital A". We're suddenly very deep in Swine Country here, with this suggestion implying that by running an RPG you will be a modern day equivalent of a beat poet or Salvador Dali (or even Philip K. Dick). Why couldn't this just have been a fun little gonzo game about multidimensional travel without all the delusions of grandeur??

Everything that follows in this section is basically wrong. It presumes that the point of an RPG is creating a story, that the GM should act as a kind of automaton, throwing out story elements (that he at least concedes it is the GM's job to make sense) but that it is the player's "Art" (yes, players are also 'Artistes' with a capital A) is to be the ones who decide how the story goes, and that they should be the ones who have more control over the story than the GM.   There's even an appalling quote about this by Meguey Baker.

There is some talk of Immersion in this, but even here we can see how far the brain-eater of storygaming has gotten to the designer (sorry, the "Artist"). He uses a term, when discussing Immersion, he calls "Bleed", which is when some of the experiences of the character start to be felt by the player (for example, in a scary scene where the character is scared the player feels scared), or where the feelings the player has get directed to the character (for example, the player is pissed off today so the character is also pissed off). He suggests the former (which he calls "bleed-out", as in out from the character to the player) is a product of Immersion, while the latter (which he calls "bleed-in") is a result of a failure or a refusal to immerse.

He doesn't suggest that the GM should reject either, though, and instead should use these to aid him in how to direct the material for the players to 'create story' with.

It's all hugely pretentious; albeit with a touch of the mystical. He calls all this "Psychic Content", and says that a character sheet is a "psychic osmotic membrane".

This is starting to sound a lot like what happens if a guy does way too much DMT, reads some Peter Carroll or some Terrence McKenna without being too metaphysically grounded, and then got kidnapped by a bunch of Ex-Forgers and inducted into their cult.

The guide to play is basically an object lesson in how not to do it. Yes, it touches on some basic platitudes (listen to what your players are saying, note when the gaming experience is working or not), and he does say players shouldn't get to violate the laws of physics or of logic. But other than that it's a guide to how not to run things. He says to run play as a literal 'scene'; not in a world, but like a scene in a story, movie or stage play. He literally suggests breaking off a scene with saying "end scene!". He suggests that the players' reactions should guide the GM in terms of where they want the story to go. Its an exercise in near-schizophrenic alienation from the virtual reality of setting.

Of course, for the Artist/designer, there is no 'setting' really. Instead he uses that abomination of a word: "The Fiction". There is no such thing! Not in an RPG!  He even has a ridiculous Forge-esque circular flowchart for how to do a session 'scene by scene', with steps "Scene setting", "the Fiction" (barf!), "Action Resolution", and "Temp Check", all in a little circle. A "temp check", by the way, is the moment after the GM says "End scene!" and then the GM goes around asking the players how they feel. He suggests "you don't have to do this every time, and you shouldn't break anyone's immersion to do it" but at this point I have to ask how the fuck would there be any immersion going on at all?!

After all this, which gets us to about p.12, the book very suddenly switches over to a bit of pragmatic stuff, with a repetition of the action resolution rules from the core book, plus a guide through tables of what the probabilities of success are based on just how many dice you have versus the difficulty level. Useful.  There's some guides to running combat (that, again anti-immersively, suggests treating combat in a set of panels like in a comic book). Unfortunately, there's also a column of more drivel on "actions as psychic content", where you hear stuff like "When a player begins talking faster, that's a sign they're highly immersed in the fiction, imagining the scene with great drama and intensity.  These are key moments because neurotransmitters are running high; synchronicity and dice magic are often at their peak at such time".

Seriously, that's a quote.  And of course, there's that fucking bullshit word, "The fiction".  RPGs are not a fiction! RPG settings are not Fiction. This term was directly invented as a way to try to semantically hijack regular RPGs for the purpose of redefining the hobby as Storygames. FUCK THAT.

Of course, the next section is titled "Fiction Management". Seriously, motherfucker?!

In fact, this section just proves that there's no such thing as "the Fiction" in RPGs. The correct title of this chapter would have been "Setting Management", because all it has is stuff for how to run the world. It gives some basic and mostly sensible advice on things like money and costs, fame, downtime (including a fairly cool random table of stuff that could happen to characters in between adventures!), having a home base for the PCs, handling Slipships (including playing the ship's computer, which is a kind of AI), NPCs, the PC party running a slipship business, and how the PCs' activities can make an impact on the rest of the world. There's also a very short list of "undiscovered nodes" (locations) that the GM can have ready in case of some kind of emergency.

There's really nothing all that wrong with this section, other than its name.
  The Downtime events table is probably the coolest thing thus far in either book. Wish we'd seen more of that so far, and less prattling about storygaming nonsense.

After this we get to the section on "The World of Daytrippers".  The main world, we are told, is "kinda dull, sorta stupid, punctuated with ridiculous spectacle, festooned with corporate advertising, and dripping with irony". In a tone of by now unsurprising cynicism, we are told that makes this world "rather like our own". The designer says that the point of this is to contrast it to the colorful weirdness that happens in slipspace.

Well, ok. Fortunately, he does NOT go on to give us dozens of pages on the mainworld, if the point is not to spend a lot of time on it because it is boring. Avoiding that mistake, instead we only get a few pages of material, detailing a few institutions (many of which are the ones mentioned in the core book, like the church of OMG, only with a couple of paragraphs of additional detail).  The entries are given, in most cases, a little spin about how they could be applied to the setting. Some of it seems counter-intuitive; for example, it is suggested that the Church of OMG would be something that could be taken seriously and that their "personal spiritual assistant" apps would be something people would actually use and players could end up expressing their feelings and spiritual worries to. Only someone who is extremely out to lunch on how spirituality works could imagine that something like this could be taken with a straight face! WTF?!

There's also some examples of daytripper companies; these include a company that discovered the "mickey mouse planet" (featuring copyright-infringing inhabitants and their bizarre mating rituals). There's also the company that found an inhabited alien world that now trades with Earth in color-shifting plastics; wealthy and vapid heiress Scilla Sardacian who has a slipshipping reality show called "Follow my Ass"; and a couple of others.

There's also a list of available main world technologies, but this is literally just a list with some of the items priced.  So we know that you can purchase bionic ears for 10M ("megas", the game's unit of currency), but there's no details provided here of what they do.  This section is mainly a repeat of the similar table in the core rules.

The section on Slipspace gives you guidance to mapping the multiverse.  In essence, there's pretty much infinite possibilities of where to go. A lot of places have already been explored and mapped, but a hugely vaster number of places have yet to be discovered. Mapped 'nodes' have a set of coordinates. These coordinates are categorized by whether they're in "3space" (our universe), in time (T-space), or compound coordinates for places with multiple categories.  We get an example of five recently discovered planets.  Going to an unexplored location is obviously much more of a crapshoot in terms of worth or potential danger, but discovered areas are potentially already being exploited by someone other than you.

There are a number of potential risks of travel in slipspace: flux storms can knock a ship off course while en route.  What's more, being in a flux storm can affect travellers with a temporary mental confusion known as "the fuzzies".
The most important danger, after which the whole game is named, is that of missing your 24 hour window of time. If you are gone longer than that period, the multiverse adjusts to your dimensional anomaly by making you cease to exist.

Dream worlds, being the most surreal, have their own particular qualities. Characters in a dream world can end up suffering from "Subjective Dissonance Shock", and if they fail they suffer from temporary madness of a sort. Characters can also engage in lucid dreaming, trying to change the nature of the dream reality, which requires a skill check. Failure causes the aforementioned dissonance shock.

Beyond even the weirdness of the dream worlds, there's the "Multiversal Chao", which is a "limitless vortex of unstructure and semi-structured reality that can drive a person insane within minutes".  Here, dissonance must be checked against every 'frame' you spend in the space. Usually you can only end up in the Chao by accident (going off course); trying to return from it requires a very difficult check.  There can be a purpose to going to the Chao; within it can be found "Pure Objects", "symbolic fragments of dissolved dream worlds and fractured realities", so real that they can resist the Chao's effect. A kind of materialized symbol, or a platonic ideal. An example of a Pure Object that could be found in the Chao is Excalibur, but we're also told it could be something as innocuous looking as a lucky keychain.

Failing on a vector slip can land you in the wrong universe. If you do so, you can try to return home from there, or try a 'compound slip' which requires a slightly higher difficulty, to get to where you wanted to go.
We're also told about "Bay X", an emergency protocol station, programmed into every slipship, in case of someone missing their 24 hour window; people can be theoretically rescued by doing a temporal and compound slip, but requiring a second destination to avoid creating a paradox. Or to put it in layman's terms, it's still incredibly complicated.  I guess it exists as a last chance hail-mary pass to save characters who have missed their time limit window.

After this, we get into the particulars of Time Travel, which is yet another possibility in the game. As it happens, traveling into the past to change things is harder than it might first appear.  First, as soon as you leave the past, time will make an effort to fix any changes you made. This at least means you don't have to worry about the "Butterfly effect"; if you want to change the past you'd have to try very hard to do it.
But if you were to try very very hard, to make a change that can't just be covered up by the weight of the timestream itself (say, blowing up the statue of liberty, or murdering your own grandmother when she was still a child), what happens then is that you create a NEW timeline. This means your own timeline still exists, but you are now in a different timeline; and you need to do a "compound slip" maneuver to have a chance of getting home.
Travel into the future doesn't really have that problem of altering the present but it is still disconcerting.

The next section is on "Generators" (starting on p.33). This starts with a set of tables that act as a "mission generator" based on random rolls: you roll for the type of mission, the type of node you're going to, the various mission details, and the total of the rolls thus far serves as the payment offered for the mission.
There are subtables for generating "maguffins" (someone should have told the author they're spelled 'macguffin', but anyways, they're desirable objects, people, creatures or information), complications, perks, obstacles, and rewards. Further detail is provided for obstacles and opponents and how to quantify them. The author notes that the GM should feel free to change details rolled up if he's not satisfied with them.

Suddenly, the entire quality of this book changes!  The mission generator is quite fine, a truly useful mechanic for generating adventure frames.

Next there's a "Star Generator" and a "planet generator", for creating new worlds and systems you might travel to. Again, these are a series of cascading tables that  determine details; worlds get details on size, gravity, atmosphere, pressure, water, and biosphere (that is to say, if there's any life on the world, and whether its microbial, primitive life, animal life, sentient life, or an advanced civilization).

The Location Generator is a set of tables to create specific terrains: the surrounding landscape, local conditions, weather, amount of biodiversity, and color patterns of the area (that last one is a clever touch). There's also tables for Unusual Wilderness Features. Beyond that, there's also weird qualities, nearby objects, and what an inhabited location is used for (i.e. 'ruin', 'factory', 'temple', 'transit hub', 'court', etc.).

The life form generator lets you roll up all manner of creatures; rolling by core body type (conical, egg-shaped, trapezoidal, etc.), body surface (spongy, exoskeleton, hair, features, etc.), symmetry (number and location of appendages), sustenance (what it feeds on: photosynthesis, animal life, radiation, etc.), manipulators (hands, paws, tendrils, etc.), size, locomotion, basic senses, reproduction method, other characteristics, social group size, and a guideline to how to handle communication.
The tables seem geared to create, if used randomly, truly alien and weird creatures; which certainly makes sense for the setting.

The Society Generator lets you make an alien culture. It has tables for societal values, problems, tech level (with a subtable of what a given tech is used for, when you need to check such a thing), resources, and level of scientific understanding.

The Drama Generator is a set of large-ish tables that are used to roll random dramatic themes, random plot twists, or, if you want more detail, a table of predetermined Drama Templates, which basically provide the whole framework for an adventure.

The Character Generator lets you make NPCs, with their attitudes/reactions, feelings, what they're doing when encountered, what they want, what their archetype is (eg. hero, mentor, ally, trickster, etc.), or what their problem is.

The Alternate Earth Generator has a table to note the pivotal event that changed the course of this earth's history from the home earth, just how much was changed because of it (so in theory there could be a world where FDR died before becoming president and it led to a Nazi-dominated world, and another where FDR died and nothing much changed except for a different Democrat in office during WWII), and when the change happened (ranging from waaay in the past, to near the end of the universe; with the note that the GM should roll on the same table but with a different die roll (d6+7 instead of 3d6) if he wants the event to take place during human history).
This table is pretty broad, I guess most of the others are too, but in this case it leaves a lot more legwork for the GM to figure out the details; the tables don't say "FDR died" or something like that (just so there's no confusion about my example above), they just say "historical figured died or was never born", and you then have to pick a historical figure yourself. You have to fill in all but the broadest blanks.

The Dream World generator is perhaps the most vague of all, since Dream Worlds have the widest variance: planets have to follow our universe's laws, alternate histories still have to diverge from our own, but dream worlds can basically be any sort of crazy shit.
There's tables for type of divergence (vaguely speaking, what things are weird), 'scope of divergence' (just how weird), what the dream reality is like (free-floating space, a planet, a limitless plane, an enclosed space, etc.), how stable reality is, what the dream is about (babies, death, war, marriage, animals, chase dreams, travel, sex, religious, etc.), weird details of people found in the dream, weird details of the terrain, and weird details of objects in the dream.

The Multiversal Chao generator is even stranger, though slightly less vague. It has some highly surreal tables for the weird surreal things that happen in the Chao. The first two tables involve picking a thing, and then tweaking that thing, and making that the basis of the point in the Chao the PCs are at. There's a table for random 'tableaus' (moments of stability that appear for a brief time in the insanity), and of course a table for Pure Objects, namely what's remarkable about them.

The Time Travel Generator has tables for time travel goodness: random time periods, random social strata where you emerge, random cultural point of interest, random things going on, and historical ma(c)guffins.
There's also a table for attitudes and reactions toward the PCs.

A flowchart at the end of the section tells you which generator to use when, though I think that would be pretty self-evident.

The whole section on generators is about 55 pages, and by all means the best 55 page block of both rule books. If this GM guide was just these pages, I'd probably be praising it to high heaven.

Right at the end of this section there's a half dozen fleshed-out 'sample missions'. They were created using the generators.

The next section is on Creating DayTrips. Seriously? I thought that's what the "Generators" section was for!  If this was an old school game, that's what the last section would have been for, but apparently in quasi-storygameland, we need several pages on story, missions, structure, goals, acts, and some goofy frameworks to make it all more complicated than it needs to be.
And of course, it comes with jargon: "vertical control" (increasing or decreasing tension in story), envisioning the adventure as a three dimensional cube, 'beats' (key elements), etc.  We get shown the adventure in a "four act structure", because quasi-storygamers think that adventures are like a stage-play or a novel. We get the gimmick of a 'plotfield' ("a collection of narrative objects designed to cause a meaningful story to emerge through player actions" - which is of course not true for RPGs); and of "runsheets" (flowchart + note style diagrams of a plotfield). It is telling we are given sample 'runsheets' from "Romeo & Juliet" and "The War of the Worlds", which is telling because they are NOT RPGs. They are stories. There is a sample adventure provided as a 'runsheet'; frankly, I don't see how the runsheet was really in any way helpful, it certainly bears no relationship to how I would do an adventure.

At the closing of the section, the designer asks (for the reader) "do you really need to fill out all these forms"?  The good news is he does say "no".  The bad news is he also says that you DO have to "think like this".
He adds "you DO have to consider the Story as an emergent and unpredictable thing that grows out of player interaction with a Plotfield".

To which my answer is NO YOU FUCKING DON'T.
You don't have to think about story at all. You may or may not choose to have a plot, that's optional, some RPG games can have plot set-ups previously thought out by GMs, others (Sandboxes, for example) do not even need that. But under no circumstances do you have to, nor even should you, think about "emergent story". Story is a by-product!  It is completely irrelevant to what you are actually doing in the game. It requires no effort on the part of either the GM or players.

The GM book concludes with some conversion notes "for popular systems" though just which systems are not explicitly stated. There are tables for converting the basic mechanics to something called "PbtA" (no idea what that is, it might be obvious but I'm missing it), for "d20", for "1-20" and for "1-100". The last three at least are pretty obvious.  There's also some worksheets for adventures, worlds, and tracking PCs.

What to conclude about Daytrippers as a whole? If you look at the core rules, the system in its basic form is an RPG.  But the material gets riddled with layers of storygaming claptrap.  The GM's book is, for the most part, quite bad; except that the Generators are freaking awesome.

I think the best I could say is this: if you peeled away about half of these books' total page count (maybe just putting what's left in one single book) by removing all the superfluous Storygame stuff, you'd be left with a fine RPG.  Or to put it another way, if you ignored all the stuff that I'd suggest you peel away, you'd have a decent transdimensional adventure game.


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

Saturday 16 January 2016

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: The Buck Stops Somewhere

It does. Ultimately someONE has to be the ultimate arbiter of an RPG game.

There are essentially three possibilities:

1. The GM is the ultimate Arbiter. He is allowed to break the rules. This is really the healthiest choice. Someone chosen by his peers to run the game who is then given extreme authority; he knows the group in question and its needs.

2. The Players are the ultimate arbiters. This is an invitation to chaos. There are two ways this can go: either the Players are allowed to break the rules, but the GM isn't, or the Players and the GM are both allowed to break the rules. In either case, the end result is basically a pushing match where the biggest primma donna ends up dominating the game and eventually ruining the fun for everyone else.
If the GM is the ultimate arbiter, yes, if he's a Dick he could ruin everyone's fun. But there's a certain inoculation against that in that the GM doesn't have a PC. Yes, a bad GM will make an NPC his pet, he'll lord over the players, etc... but in all those cases the problem is NOT that the GM has power, the problem is that the GM in question is a dick.
Whereas trying to present some kind of dictatorship of the playertariat as the alternative is stupid. It only takes one dick with power to ruin the game; and the odds of there being a single dick in a group of 5 people is going to be considerably higher than the odds of a single GM being a dick.

3. The "rules" are the ultimate arbiter... which is really a lie. The Rules didn't spring out of nothing. They were written. So in this scenario, what you're really doing is saying that its the Game Designer who has the ultimate power, he's the only one who can "break" the rules because he's the one who got to set them in the first place.
This is quite possibly the MOST idiotic of all options. Here, you aren't trusting Bob the GM who you've known for years, you aren't even trusting power to all six gamers and hoping to god no one ruins it, you are instead giving absolute power to some asshole who might live thousands of miles away, who's never met you nor will ever meet you, but has decided that he knows better than you do what's best for you and your group.
This is utter bullshit. This is the reason rules do not survive first contact with a group. It doesn't matter how perfect and all-inclusive and self-contained a set of rules are; the point is they are not rules that have been specifically written FOR your group (unless you happen to play with the game designer, then its a different story, but that's beside the point). The rules MUST be broken to suit the gaming group, or you will end up with a bunch of idiots running around playing in a sub-par way all for satisfying the whim of someone who's never met them and won't even know they exist.

Of course players will think it'd be cool if they have the power. Usually, what they really want is for "they, personally" to have the power and not the other players. The whole idea becomes a lot less appealing once you realize you'll also have to trust the whims of 3-5 other people.

And of course, there are some game designers, would be "geniuses" who are basically megalomaniacs, who would like everyone on earth to have to play THEIR game exactly how THEY designed it, no changes allowed. They will often talk about the evils of the GM and how the GM must be neutered for the players' sakes, but they are in fact the worst of hypocrites, all they want is for everyone to be forced to admire their own "artistic" vision. They don't give a shit about the other players, they want to be sure they, the "bolshevik" if you would, get to control how a game gets played, and not the "bourgeoisie" GMs or the "proletariat" players; though like any good group of autocrats they'll claim that its the proles who come out winning somehow.

The only real solution is what works, and has worked for well over 30 years now; the GM is the ultimate authority. The Buck stops with him. Period.


(Originally posted March 23, 2009)

Friday 15 January 2016

RPGPundit Reviews: Daytrippers (core rules & gamemaster guide) PART I

This is a review of the RPG "Daytrippers: A Surreal Science Fiction Reality-Hopping RPG", which comes in two books (the core rules, and the gamemasters guide).  Both are written by Tod Foley, and published by "As If Productions". The books are both softcover, the Core Rules being about 44 pages long, and the GM guide about 120 pages. The covers of each show a space scene (the GM Guide featuring a planetoid that looks like a giant head).  There is only a very light scattering of interior art, which is black and white and consists of small images that could be considered generic sci-fi.

The back of the core book describes Daytrippers as "a roleplaying game set in a surrealistic near-future science-fiction multiverse" where characters "pilot unique machines into dream worlds and pocket universes to retrieve items of unearthly value".  The author also lists his influences as Moebius, Michael Moorcock, Rudy Rucker, Stanley Weinbaum, Jack Vance and "other masters of weirdness".

The Core Book, as you can imagine from its size, is relatively very light on setting, focusing just on providing the basic premise and then mechanics to cover that premise.

The core rulebook does start, however, with some pseudo-fiction, in the form of a kind of historical retelling of the key setup of the game setting. Like I've found with most in-game fiction, it's not particularly good (but that's nothing new), though it is perhaps slightly mitigated that its in a kind of mockumentary format rather than a short-story format. Thank goodness for that!

The game is set almost a century from now, with a scientist (with the questionable name of "Zayim Diaspora"; every single NPC in both books has a funny name, as far as I can tell) discovering a technology that allows people to 'slip' out of this reality and into other realities. There are several kinds of these slips possible: you can travel to other planets in this universe, slip into alternate earths, go backward or forward in time, go into dreams, or do a 'compound slip' into more than one of these categories at once.  That's the fundamental conceit of the setting, and where the action is meant to take place: PCs are travelers able to visit other worlds, alternate earths, other times, or even non-realities (like "dream worlds"), leaving a very open range of adventuring possibilities for the game.  The term "daytrippers" comes out of the major qualifier of the setting: you can only travel for 24 hours at a time, and failing to get back before your 24 hours are up could have disastrous consequences for you.

(Beatles Cover Band? Or Alternate Universe Beatles??)

We are also told a little bit about the homeworld of the setting. It's pretty standard cyberpunk fare: there's lots of megacorporations and it's what I guess we'd call semi-dystopian. Not godawful, but "dull, stupid, and ridiculous" (in the author's own words).  There's a note too that all the major world religions have united into a single "Church of OMG" (one miraculous god), which I frankly find unbelievable to a point of stupidity. Technology (aside from the slip-ships that are central to the setting) is extremely advanced: robots, stem cell banks, fusion, mecha suits, limb regrowth, cybernetics, colonies on mars, cities in Antarctica, mining on Titan.

After this very brief (6 page) introduction, we get right to character creation. Sadly, it's point-buy. One of the worst sorts of point-buy: you get 100 points and have to decide from this to buy your stats, skills, gear, crew, ranks, fame, and a ship to go reality-hopping with.  Point costs vary wildly. So you're more or less stuck with a lengthy and irritating character creation accountancy process. The only saving grace is a little sidebar that lets you just make some "short form" characters (that is to say, a selection of how to assign stats and skills), though even there you need to decide what value goes where, pick the skills yourself, and you still have extra points left over; so at best you just get a slightly faster system.
There are "classes", but these are really more of a 'profession', they do not determine what skills or abilities you have (instead, I presume you're meant to pick from the list of 20+ skills whatever might make sense for your class to have).  Classes are at least colorful; the suggested list includes things like "gonzo writer", "celebrity", and "tourist", alongside more standard options like "soldier" or "scientist".  There is an optional rule that lets you gain a 'class advance', a specific bonus based on what class you choose.

Some of the more unusual things you can spend your points on are 'crew' (staffers or crewmembers for your ship, NPC retainers, in essence), rank (if you have official rank in the military, political office, or some kind of secret/spy organization), or fame (how well known you are). You are allowed to spend more points than you have, but this translates into a debt (money debt) that you owe to some megacorporation or character. If you don't pay your debt you will end up losing fame and could end up being arrested.

Skills are treated in a very loose kind of framework; which is not to say that the skills aren't specific (with things like acting, drug tolerance, fighting, firearm, mnemonics, prestidigitation, programming, stealth, etc.), but the rules explicitly state that if you can find creative ways to apply them, you can get the rule bonus. The interpretation is meant to be very fast and loose; for example, if your character is trained in fighting he can obviously use it to fight, but he could theoretically use it for keeping his balance, or for self-control in a non-combat situation.

Worse still, we're told that the reason for this "Fiction-driven approach" is that "the purpose of this game is to tell amazing stories". Which from the point of view of a regular RPG is hogwash, of course; and yet while clearly loosey-goosey in terms of application, the rules thus far are not in any way a storygame.  It's rather an RPG that has let itself be muddled by the author's infection of story-game thinking.

There's some further suggestions: progressive character generation, where you don't spend all your points at once, and instead can spend points during play (or in between play) to claim abilities or skills retroactively by inventing some background detail.  There's also "lifeshaping", which is a set of dramatic tags that define your character's roleplaying qualities. Examples are things like "taught to always hide my feelings", "sieze the throne or die trying", or "must take good care of my red barchetta". If you invoke these, it gives you extra dice on your resolution roll.

A couple of sample characters and generic characters are provided.

The system is also a dice pool, adding insult to injury, but at least its not a 'counting successes' or 'adding a shitload of dice' type of pool. It's one of those involving rolling various dice but only registering the highest value. You roll a number of dice equal to your attribute, take the highest value, and then add bonuses for skills, items, character development, etc.; and subtract penalties for things like being wounded or attempting multiple actions.

The resolution is not a straightforward pass/fail, but rather involves the whole "no, and", "no, but", "yes, but", "yes", "yes, and" method so beloved of Storygamers.  Some people love these sort of things, but in my experience they tend to require the GM adding complications in a way that feels utterly artificial. It's not enough to just say "you fail", you have to say "you fail BUT suddenly this other thing happens" or "you succeed but then this asshole shows up out of nowhere" or whatever. Irritating.

The combat system largely follows the same lines and is pretty simple. There's also rules for how to handle characters trying to assist another character at some task (depending on the result they can help or hinder the efforts).
In combat, damage can be taken to any of your attributes; depending on where the GM judges damage to be directed. There's rules for toxins, diseases and drugs (I think sample poisons might be statted a little bit on the weak side); and healing can take a short or long time depending on your access to medical assistance and technology.
There's various pages dedicated to vehicular combat. It feels to me a little bit at odds with the otherwise more rules-light tone of the rules. There are likewise several pages of rules on slip-ship creation and sample ships provided; again, more rules-heavy than one might expect from other parts of the game.

There are also significant rules for 'vector slipping'; the mechanics of traveling to these various places you can get to in the game setting.  Naturally, the presence of these are more understandable. Particular information is given to Dream Worlds, because they have different rules for obvious reasons. There's also rules for the special Automated Survival Suits that daytrippers need to use when they travel. These suits allow you to survive the hazardous conditions of slipping; they also enhance your strength, have automated medical systems to heal you, can absorb some damage, and have scanners and jets.  Suits can take damage and special rules cover this; this is a good thing to include given the significance of the suits (and armor damage being something that is often overlooked in these types of games).

Experience points function very similarly to the character creation points, though depending on what you're buying the cost of xp for 'cp' varies. You get experience points for a variety of reasons: by missing a roll, by doing well in a roll, for vising new slipnodes, for returning home from a slipnode, for getting close to dying, for saving someone's life, for defeating an enemy, for bringing back artifacts or discoveries, for doing retcon character-development scenes, and other stuff as the GM wants.  The designer suggests that a typical mission will give 10-20XP, I think that this might be a conservative estimate depending on how literally the GM intereprets these guidelines.  Again, it may be hard to tell from a straight reading of the book, but I suspect that character points are gained a bit too quickly for what you'd want for a longer-term campaign.

The last section of the Core Rule Book describes an optional system for creating "collaborative missions"; a way for the whole group to create (through a set of abstract methods) a mission, which pushes the game right out of RPG territory and into full-blown Storygaming. It's only about four pages long.

I'll refrain on judgment until the end of Part II of this review, where I will be tackling the Gamemaster's guide.


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