Monday, November 12, 2018

Characters and Tactical Subtext


This was written on the weekend, and not meant as a tribute to the now late Stan Lee, but it might as well have been...

“We explore dungeons not characters” is one slogan of the Old School Renaissance in gaming and it’s stupid. You can’t explore a dungeon without exploring a character. That's my thesis--let’s go


What’s it look like to play without exploring character? There’s a fantastic game which does this: Space Marine, the video game. It’s a third person-chainsworder where you play—prepare to be shocked—a grim white-haired white dude. The action is fast, the toys are fun, the controls are intuitive, it looks like this:

first person....but with colors! what a concept.

...and it has the best third-person mechanic there is—a jump pack. Soar with marvelous physics over the lovingly-devved scenery while also sneaking up on your enemies. If you’ve ever played Boba Fett in a Star Wars: Battlefront game you know the feeling—closely allied to Spider-Man webswinging mechanics.


Anyway, this game rules but somehow it isn’t as engrossing (that specific word) as some games that look worse, aren’t as fun to smack buttons on, and don’t have 3 decades of decadent John Blanche-inspired design behind them, like, say Lunar: Silver Star Story...

I could play Space Marine any day I have free time alone (so ok never) but Lunar occupies my whole brain when I play.

Lunar is a game that, on paper, I shouldn’t like: rustic (at least at first), romance, goofy bosses, long cut scenes, j-pop, fiddling with buying and equipping gear, cliche story and its one of those games where gameplay curves aren’t worked out so parts are way too easy and tactics slowly cease mattering as you level up: but I like it (also I know at least 2 other overeducated tattooed professional sexpeople who like it, dunno if this is a trend).

Lunar has what Space Marine does not: more than one character who fights at the same time--not support teams, real characters, with names. This is not to say they're great characters--or even good, really, they're just characters. Even the most duplo-block characters do something to your brain just by being characters--who doesn't love Yoshi? He lets you ride on his back and spits apples. He's a solid dude--All that without him saying a word.

This creates tactical subtext—the magical land where people who talk about “story” and “character” in games overlap with people who are actually fun at parties. This is where Pendragon lives (a knight, yes…but what kind of knight?) and where most superhero games try to exist (they made you the ultimate fighting machine—but at what cost?) and of course it’s a part of all tabletop RPGs and it’s one of the reasons you like them.
art: david aja

In Lunar, your first party consists of three people: Alex—exhaustingly earnest main character with a Great Destiny, Luna—irritating singing hippie, and Ramus—a fat dork whose cowardice is exceeded only by his greed.

Or, at least, that’s how they act in the cutscenes and town scenes: in the fights, Ramus is a fucking delicious monster—a wonderful, dart-throwing, item-using support tank whom I would not trade for all the contents of all the Locked Red Chests in Nanza. I love this guy, I love his stupid boyscout neckerchief, I love his unvarnished lust for dragon diamonds, any man brave enough to go into an ice dungeon and fight crystals and yetis with a garbage can lid as a shield can drink from my canteen any day. I get so pissed when the story makes you drop him from the party after the second or third boss and he gets replaced with people with reputations and proper combat powers.

The point is not that Ramus is especially remarkable (he isn’t, he is a stock character), the point is: I have thoughts about Ramus, continuously throughout and after the game, and that's what the marriage of action and even the thinnest character can give you.

As the story progresses, things happen to him and I get to think about them. The game gives you a text: the characters talking to each other in their stupid jrpg way, where Ramus (and then Nash after that and then Kyle after that) are run down as useless jackasses by the other stock-character high-schoolers...

...(who, due to programming limitations and jrpg convention, have no memory of the like 90 times they have all saved each others’ lives in the last hour), but the game also gives you a subtext: your own experience using those characters. They don’t mesh—and that’s actually great, because it enables you to have thoughts—you need thoughts to overcome the gap between the intended story and the unpredictable gameplay events, like Ramus turning out to be really good at luring giant flies into close combat by dodging. So young, so brave.

Whereas in Space Marine the company commander keeps telling you that you need to go do something, soldier, and then you do. Alone. Good job. There's no other way of addressing the problems in the game demonstrated by anyone else you might  compare yourself/himself to--no subtexts are being generated. As far as you know, your way of killing orks is the only way.

This also is a problem with Mass Effect, at least the iterations I’ve played: these support characters are all presented as ubercompetent badasses and…they are. Plus in the fights they are always doing their thing in your peripheral vision, they aren’t characters whose effect on the fight you feel much first-hand.

All of this is a way of saying: Lunar gives you tactical subtext.  The way the characters interact with gameplay (in this and so many cases, that's fighting) interacts with their overt presentation as personalities in ways that an observant, thinking player can have their own ideas about—and the root of all entertainment is creating things we have a series of ideas about.

It won’t have escaped you that his kind of pleasure is deeply spliced into the DNA of D&D and its ilk—in the richest way possible.

Ela Darling, award-winning Virtual-Reality porn pioneer, ambitious woman, and utter sweetheart, plays Poppy Fields, who, out of combat, is kind of the world’s most Total White Girl, constantly incredulous at every monster’s insistence on being monstrous (“You ate him? Who raised you?”) to the point where you half expect her to demand to speak to the Tiktaalik, the Primordial Were-Titan’s manager. And yet, with a bow, she is a masterwork of precision and harm, dealing terrible damage at 90 feet. Morgana—premiere monster actress on Stan Against Evil and funny goth—plays Gwen, grumpy teenage rogue who is so over everything, and in a fight she….really needs help because she’s like second level, and is obviously very proud when she manages to pull anything off and prove she’s cool to the grown-ups. You can have thoughts about that, you can have thoughts about Gwen, you can have thoughts about how Gwen is or isn’t like Morgana, you can have thoughts about how Gwen does or doesn’t like Poppy, you can have thoughts about how Morgana is or isn’t like Ela based on the characters they created. And that’s before you introduce any other characters or players or any specific situation where Gwen has Morgana's back--or doesn't, or they both die together, or save each other, or need each other, or anything else...

Character isn’t just personality, it’s what emerges when people are desperate, thrown together, tested. And an adventure does that always, for free, every time.

art: roc upchurch
p.s. New blog in town starting out with a bang. Fiona is smart.
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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Frostbitten & Mutilated Autogenerators

Oooh, Sebastian Calvo made some online toys using the Frostbitten & Mutilated tables, they're magnificent...

 

Party Level

Party Composition

Animals

Motive

Quirk
And this one's for items....


Art by Zak Smith

Monday, November 5, 2018

Powered By The Apocalypse Is Pro Wrestling

Warning: This blog entry is going to criticize a PTA game (Powered by The Apocalypse). If historical precedent holds, this means PTA fans will fall upon it and its author like jackals upon a luckless gazelle. This is fine. I do however ask that said jackals (1) be literate in English, the language in which the entry is penned, and (2) then actually use this ability to read the entry before leaving comments. Thank you.

-Zookeepin' Zak

So Jeff Gameblog Ran A Storygame...

It was part of the PTA family of games--that is, Powered by The Apocalypse--meaning a game mechanically inspired by Apocalypse World*. It was a pro wrestling themed game.

Jeff is a big wrestling fan and we all had fun inventing wrestlers, including a juggalo wrestler who hit people with bottles and Jacques LaRoque, a proud Quebecois separatist lumberjack. I played The Leviathan--a phlegmatic mountain of muscle (Power +3) who, behind-the-scenes, was a cerebral, introspective man who disdained the showmanship and foolishness of the circuit but kept on in order to put himself through his PhD.
We all liked our characters and had fun playing them but, as expected, we agreed afterward that the game system seemed to do nothing at all worth doing--and we cast about for other systems we could use.

So:

What Went Wrong?

Part of it has to do with the set up of this particular game. The idea is fine: you don't play Hulk Hogan (a character in the ring) you play a guy named Terry trying to become successful as a professional wrestler. We liked this idea. I might repeat that a few times, since PTA fans are, by and large, kinda slow and may read this: we liked this idea, we liked this idea, we liked this idea.  The biggest problem was twofold:

-The main action of the game set-up (PTA games are much-vaunted for requiring little or no prep) is in the ring. That is, a series of matches.

-Wrestling is fake.

Inside the ring, on top of the usual oblique bunraku-show of storygame combat (Am I rolling vs Work or Power? Can I redescribe what I'm doing so it's about Power, since that's my good stat? Is there any reason to ever not?), you have a match where you have no goal other than serially doing moves (which, if impressive, gain Audience--the xp stat). So while cool wrestling moves are one of the high points of the game (as Jacques LaRoque came toward me with a sliding kick, I swatted his foot aside, spinning him 180 degrees on the mat and grabbed him by the hair in an illegal maneuver) there's no mechanical incentive to describe a cool move (you're still just rolling + Power) and a mild social disincentive to do it (the faster you shut up, the faster other people get to play, including the 3-4 players that aren't even in this match).

Outside the ring, where our characters should be genuinely interesting (The Leviathan, being a postgrad, is actually fairly sympathetic to Quebec separatism and dislikes the frog-baiting that his manager encourages him to do on-screen) there is no support at all:

You are all entertainers competing with each other to gain Audience and become more popular than the other wrestlers--that is the goal. Yet....on top of all the other problems with PTA games, this means that there are very few incentives to do anything behind the scenes with other PCs besides:

-Injure them (which takes your friend out of the game so socially sucks).

-Get into fights with them causing you to gain "Heat" with them. (Which means that there is no reason to do anything but have a conflict, but nothing about the conflict matters so long as it doesn't escalate to someone getting injured.)

Like, after the match...

"I hate you, Jacques Laroque!"

"I hate you as well, Leviathan!"

Ok we both got 1 Heat from that, unless one of us wants to hurt the other one in real life and sideline the next player for an entire session, there's no further mechanical purpose this behind-the-scenes encounter can serve. At this point we can and will keep having fun acting but.....this needs and has no rules? And every second we do this just delays arbitrarily the point at which we switch to the actual wrestling matches and involve other players.

Acting out of the ring (like cool moves in the ring) is the point--and the system disincentivizes it.



Means-Incentives vs Ends-Incentives

In a way, PTA games are pro wrestling: it matters that you dazzlingly leaped through the air onto your opponent--it doesn't matter if that is actually a way to hurt a guy in that situation. The system doesn't care about effectiveness, it only cares about the spectacle. You are only incentivized to do the move not think about what would work and engage the inventions born of necessity.

It speaks to a larger problem with PTA games for people who have played traditional ones or for people who play them as their first game. To back away from the white-hot-button of claiming PTA games are imperfect (I can already hear the trolls going "Zak says PTA is pro wrestling but OSR games are real lol" which I do hope no-one reading is stupid enough to believe) I'll use an example of a game everyone agrees is a mechanical disaster: the original RIFTS:

RIFTS, like most Palladium games, had xp for good plans--if I am right in quoting from memory A critical plan or action that save the entire group or a large number of people: 15 xp. I remember because it was a relatively large reward and so I was always angling for it. The (mild) problem with this well-meaning reward is that it is redundant: your fellow PCs not dying is its own reward, and saving people already has a separate reward.

So the game rewards the means (the plan or action) and the end (everyone being saved). So you get rewarded for both and that's not necessary, it just inflates the math.

All kinds of games have rewards like this where you're essentially rewarded for doing things in the genre instead of-, or in addition to-, successfully achieving the goals that characters in the genre want to achieve. And, of course, old-school D&D and its ilk instead successfully incentivize all kinds of emergent lunacy by the simple expedient of handing out xp for gold or defeating foes.

We can call these rewards-for-steps-along-the-path "means rewards" and call the simpler ones "ends rewards".

Storygames are especially fond of rewarding means-over-ends, because, so far as I can tell from their discussions online:

-A disproportionate number of them are afraid of dying, so the games make it hard to die and "Do this cray thing 'cuz it'll keep you alive" won't work as an incentive

-A disproportionate number of them aren't very intelligent, so the connection between "Get into the spice merchant's good graces" and "Steal the spice ship and its cargo" isn't really apparent to them, so they need to be told they get rewards by saying things like "You are a rogue, every time you deceive someone, gain xp!", and

-Despite being unintelligent, a disproportionate number are dimly aware there is this thing called capitalism that has contributed to them being unintelligent and they get that that's bad (all true), so the idea of granting mechanical advancement for gold sounds a lot like bad capitalism which is bad and bad but also bad, so they never really wrapped their precious lil storygamer heads around how goal-incentives work

So this leads to a game like Apocalypse World positively pneumatic with means-incentives where you're constantly mechanically incentivized to do basically anything in-genre or that creates "drama" and have absolutely no incentive to actually think about how a PC in that universe would achieve an in-character goal. Mad Max and Furiosa have reasons to argue about how to beat the Warboys and little incentive to think of ways to beat the Warboys. They go down when you roll high--possibly because you add the points you got from arguing, period.

Scenes themselves have no end goals (unlike many trad RPGs where they could end with an advantage or disadvantage developing for you during the scene), you can't get anything out of them unless you trigger a move.

So either:

-Like Apoc World you have a long or generalizable move list you kinda need to remember in order that scenes are constantly triggering moves so you make mechanical progress--and you need to always interject the moves at the right moments to make progress, or

-Like the wrestling game, you haven't got many moves so you have a lot of scenes which not only aren't mechanically helpful to you but you know at the beginning aren't going to be mechanically helpful and so now you're just outside the action of in-game progress and delaying the time until you get to the scenes that do create in-game progress. i.e. a strong mechanical and social disincentive to roleplay.

Meanwhile in a trad RPG the goals of your player and that of the PC in a scene often align, so that there is a strong incentive for both of you to get whatever it is the PC wants to get during that scene. Taking actions which seem like the kind of thing your guy would do isn't the point, simply getting the thing that player wants in the scene is the point and the tropes happen as a result.

A really good design doesn't reward Peter Parker for angsting about his personal life, it rewards him for, say, trying to meet commitments and punishes him for failing so the angst will just happen--along with a lot of other things characteristic of the genre. It requires some insight into where a story comes from, not just listing tropes and incentivizing them.

Turns out the implied trad engine "Decide what you want, when you get it gain xp" is actually tremendously flexible and powerful for both action and drama.



Ok, but who cares?

Lots of people like PTA games and are perfectly happy with means-incentives. So what's the problem? Nothing if you're them--but if you like games that push you to do things you wouldn't do without the game or have a lot of emergent mayhem, they can be a little thin. Means incentives don't push invention beyond the expected limits of the genre--any invention is mere gravy. Ends incentives tell you "The standard trope didn't work, think harder".

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In other news, INTERNATIONAL LOTFP FANS: if you buy a shirt before wednesday you get free shipping WORLDWIDE on everything in the package INCLUDING BOOKS.


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*See also:

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Why Jews Never Forget Anything

The Genizah



 It is said that among the Jews there were once wizards who, after creeping from the beds of Christians, smeared fluids vital--still fresh from these fornications and interfaith adulteries--across the graven faces of their golems while whispering words from the Zohar, thus imparting movement and intellect to these stone mockeries of the will of the Creator. Speaking as a Jew I can tell you straight up: it’s all true. (Place campaign mcguffin here) has been with the Jews since before the age of the First Temple where it was once held within the sacred Kodesh haKodashim, and the witch’s notebooks found therein illuminated to only the holiest and most learned rabbis the true nature of reality. It is now housed on the lowest and most hidden level of the library beneath the Synagogue of the Levantines (or El-Geniza) in Fustat, Egypt. Few attend this ancient library, as those who would seek the most esoteric knowledge hidden there must contend with golems left by the kabbalists and baal shem of the distant past.

On the outside, the Synagogue of the Levantines appears to be an ordinary, though very large, synagogue, beneath are seven semi-public levels of the mundane library (one for each name of god), beneath this, the secret levels 8-24 (the number of abundance) hold the genizah (it is forbidden to discard any text with the name of god written on it, so this is a disorganized record of nearly every document produced by the temple and surrounding community since its founding) and beneath are the still-more secret levels (of which the current caretakers and rabbis may not even be aware) 25-35 (the number of wisdom)  possess the sorcerous texts. It is here that the (mcguffin)—and the golems protecting it—are found. A magic-user or cleric spending at least a week in this part of the library may gain a level and more new spells may be available at the Referee’s discretion.



Baal Shem Golems 

These golems resemble the gargoyles of medieval architecture, human-sized, save that each has a Hebrew name of god engraved on its forehead. Each can use a different spell associated with that name at will. Inside each golem’s mouth is a yad (a wandlike object with a carved hand at the tip used to turn the pages of the Torah) which, when the golem is destroyed, can be used to turn the pages of the texts that teach the spell associated with the golem (though these texts may be in any of a hundred languages). Without the appropriate yad the text is unreadable. There are dozens of each golem throughout the forgotten halls of the library.

Encounters on levels 25-35, roll d100, or d10 on levels 34 and 35:

1-YHWH golem
2-El golem
3-Eloah golem
4-Elohim golem
5-Elohai golem
6-El Shaddai golem
7-Tzevaot golem
8-Roll d8 twice on this table
9 Degenerated Baal Shem
10-14 Red sunset cobra
15-19 d4 eggshell scorpions
20-21 Jackal eating dead Baal Shem
22-00 No encounter

HD 12  HP 70  Speed 120’ Armor 20 (18 vs blunt weapons, 16 vs pick-axes or similar point-force weapons) Attack +10 choke/claw d12 or by spell as 12th-level caster:

YHWH God's Eye (level 3 cleric)— Range: touch. Duration: d4 rounds+cleric level. The eye of the cleric's god falls upon the target. The target must strictly obey the tenets of the god's faith and holy teachings at all times or suffer d8+(cleric level) damage per round of disobedience. 

El  Warmask (level 3 cleric or m-u)—Caster cuts the face from a slain foe (this takes 1 round and a successful Dex check). The face then will magically adhere to the face of the caster or a target and grant them the physical (str, con, max hp and combat and damage bonuses), mental (int, magic-user spells) or spiritual (wis, cleric spells) of the dead foe for one round per level of the caster. The target or caster must have slain the foe.

Eloah Divine Lacuna (level 2 cleric)—No save. Range: Touch. A single god chosen by the caster cannot see the target. The target cannot be directly helped, harmed, or in any way affected by any cleric spells cast by a devotee of that god's faith or otherwise relying on the power of that god.  Lasts a number of days equal to the cleric’s level.

Elohim Twist of Cain (level 3 cleric)—Range: 100’. No save. Target briefly sees an apparition of every being s/he has slain. The target is stunned until s/he makes a successful save. The save is made at a minus equal to the number of digits in the total tally of the target's kills. 

Elohai Zealous Repetition (level 1 m-u)—Range: 20' On a failed will/save, the target must repeat that action every round (s/he may change targets) until s/he succeeds on a save. 

El Shaddai Obsession Curse (level 2 m-u)—Range: Touch. Failed save means the target becomes obsessed with an object of the caster’s choice. The target must do things like make a will or spell save to get away from the object and otherwise avoid acting all Gollum about it in any other circumstances. The target is at -4 in combat if not touching the object on account of being distracted unless it is actively fighting to secure the object in which case it is at +4.

Tzevaot Total Empathy (level 4 cleric)—Range: 20 feet. No save. Two targets are chosen: a "donor" and a "receiver". The receiver becomes completely aware of the donors struggles in life on the most visceral level. The receiver knows the donor's most powerful desires and fears but will not consciously act to exacerbate the donor's situation. Unless the donor creature is suicidal, the receiver cannot harm the donor in any way. The receiver may, if s/he desires, make a will/spell save to stop the feeling once every 24 hours but the knowledge gained remains.

Degenerated Baal Shem Wizard-scholars who never escaped the library, now hideous: they crawl on bellies and have legs and tails like desert lizards. They are otherwise unarmed, unarmored magic-users or clerics of level 2d6.

Red Sunset Cobra—a species of spitting cobra, likes to hide in the stacks
HD 1 HP 4 Speed 90’ Armor 14 Morale 8 Attack Bite +2 to hit d4 (can spit up to 8’) and save vs Poison each round until a save is made, taking 1hp per failed save. If any saves are failed the affected body part will swell grotesquely and the character will take 4hp every morning until it is treated.

Eggshell scorpions
HD 1 HP 3 Speed 120’ Armor 13 Morale 9 Attack +1 to hit d4 plus Save vs poison or go blind until you save.

Jackal
HD 1 HP 5 Speed 120’ Armor 15 Morale 7 Attack +1 to hit d2hp.


Connections: If the locals get the feeling the party are adventurers, they’ll tell them the legend of Zirzuuza (G12). Local Jews may ask you to take letters to relatives in Prague (D3).

(This is one of 100 adventures from the upcoming module Violence In The Nympharium from Lamentations of the Flame Princess)


Monday, October 29, 2018

Trash RIFTS


You know Rifts?
art by jez gordon
Originally: dope setting of post-apocalyptic intergenre chaos, incomprehensible rules. Now: same dope setting but kinda not evolved much, rules by noted sexual harasser?

So we need better rules.

This is Rifts for high-trust RPG environments like FLAILSNAILS, home games etc. Play with a GM you like.



TRASH RIFTS


When in doubt, resolve things as your D&D of choice.

Stats: 

3d6 6 times.
Assign them to stats. What stats? ANY STATS YOU WANT TO INVENT
But if you invent a stat the GM thinks is stupid then you lose the stat and the number--no replacement.

So: Strength, Psi power, Wizardry? Fine. You put a 17 in "Winning"? Meh sorry, you lost that stat.

If it turns out you need a stat for something and don't have it? You suck at that. You have a -3 modifier to it.

Instead of hit points:

Hits come off a random stat.  Two stats at zero and you're unconscious.  Three and you pick up a terrible wound.  Four zeros you're dead.

(This rule is Jeff's idea.)

Skills:

You get 10 skills, they are each linked to a stat and work like that stat + your Level. Right now that's +1.

What skills? ANY SKILL YOU WANT. This is a good opportunity to world-build--if you get "Technomancy" congratulations you just put technomancy in the setting.
But, like stats, if you invent a stupid skill the GM doesn't like--in the bin. No replacement.

Items:

Items: you get 2d6 items, you must be able to carry them and find a picture of them in a Rifts book. They cannot be a unique artifact. Once rolled, you will lose d6 random ones.

No repeats.

Specials:

You get d4 Special things. Mutations, innate powers, spells, claws, vehicles whatever it is that makes your kind of race/class interesting.
Again: if you invent a stupid one, the GM can veto it.



Skin: 

Whatever you like. If it's stupid, the GM is allowed to reskin you into a pre-existing Rifts base class (psi-stalker, cyberknight, etc) of their choosing.

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Here's the first ever character for Trash Rifts, made by Jeff Gameblog:


Skizzo McGirk, drifter Stats Dumb Luck 16 Charm 13 Ingenuity 13 Deftness 13 Brute Force 11 Common Sense 9
Skills Drive Wicked Cool Land Vehicle (Deftness) Jury-Rig Stolen Equipment (Ingenuity) Punch Goon (Brute Force) Avoid Automatic Gunfire (Deftness) Lay it on Thick with the Ladies (Charm) Survive on a Scavengers Diet (Brute Force) Make Promises You Can Actually Keep (Common Sense) (I may veto this one) Recruit Banditos for Daring Raid (Charm) Turn Death into a Fighting Chance For Survival (Dumb Luck) Sneak like a Fucking Ninja (Deftness) Specials Flunked out of Skull Boy officer school but still knows a lot of their protocols and procedure Used to run a bloodmobile on the Mexican border - friendly with several draculas Never met a drug he didn’t like Parselmouth Equipment Vibro-Claws (if you think I’m going to pass on a small chance to be Megadamage Wolverine, you are crazy)
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And one by Geist.

Giles De Rais MK 2
Summoner Low Cunning: 10 Willpower: 8 Social Competence: 6 Violence: 10 Self Esteem: 6 Luck: 12 Summon (Luck) Compel Obedience (Low Cunning) Barter (Social Competence) Argue (Self Esteem) Dodge (Luck) Avoid Consequences (Luck) Lie (Willpower) Smash Someone in the Teeth (Violence) Know About Demons (Low Cunning) Communicate with Ghosts (Willpower/Social Competence) Items: Summoning Gear Skull Bedecked Body Armor SMG Megadamage Samurai Sword Demon summoning tome Splurgoth Staff
Special: Immediate Comprehension of Written Word Psionic Manta Ray Mount
art by shawn cheng

And one by me:

Slith —serpent mutant Stats Agility 15 Cleverness 12 Investment in this situation 8 Reassuringness 7 Lifting thingss 7 Noticing stuff 6 Skills Clossssse combat 16 Sneaking 16 Fixing things 13 Tending woundsss 13 Hunting beastss 16 Pilot things 13 Sabotagery 13 Grappling 8 Seek Bargains 8 Scavenging 7 Equipment Pair of vibro katanas Specials Chameleon Skin Regeneration Congealing spit (medical) Grappling bite


Rift on.



Tuesday, October 23, 2018

OSR Domination Progress Report


Preview Edition of Luka Rejec's Witchburner Adventure . Luka did the best One Page Dungeon and it looks to be a nice Warhammer-style adventure a little off the beaten path. Full of interesting NPCs. And....I won't give it away. But it's got a good twist.


Murder Snackers:

A new OSR D&D podcast...

Our aesthetic ideal is The Eric Andre Show plus Hard to be a God plus I Hit It With My Axe. Episodes will never have ads, will never be longer than an hour, and will always contain vulgarity, disregard for plot, and whimsical acts of pointless violence.

Vertical Slum is no joke. A weird sci-fi city in exotic detail featuring "The God Who Dreams in Pillars and Is a Boy" "The God Which Pulses Quivers And Collecs" and more. A bit like Carcosa meets Vornheim?  I'm liking it and trying to figure out how to adapt it for my game. And I dig the character sheet.

Someone's doing a solo run-thru of Maze of the Blue Medusa on YouTube--she's got some interesting solo mechanics.

In Cute Twitter News, our party's Angry Goth Rogue is also the werewolf on Curious Creations of Christine McConnell and cosplayed Domino which lead to Gail Simone having a double take:

Monday, October 22, 2018

On The Reliability of Magic


In fairy tales magic is reliable: if the leprechaun wants you to be a donkey, you're gonna be a donkey. No save.

Magic in that context is just the continuation of Nature by other means. And Nature is, if not exactly Good, then at least implacable and to be respectd.

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In D&D, it's somewhat less reliable--the sufficiently tough, clever or spiritually advanced can escape it, sometimes you even have to target it and land a hit as if it were a mere superpower, like Superman's heat vision.

It's still way more reliable than combat (as "caster supremacy" conspiracy theorists are quick to point out).

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In classic pulp stories and in games that try to emulate them like Dungeon Crawl Classics, magic is extremely unreliable. It is Things Best Left Untouched By Mortals. Results go all over the place, they can fizzle or backfire or result in discoveries.

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As usual, the Rosetta Stone here is Tolkien vs classic pulp (Lovecraft, Lieber, Vance, etc):

Tolkien lays out a fairytalish paradigm of magic as primarily a moral force: creatures who use it are in tune with higher things. Magic does what it says on the tin because it is the tin: the way the world is supposed to be working itself out. Magic only goes wrong and becomes weird when in the hands of the unworthy (like The One Ring). (As the OSR Discord reminds me, Dr Strange, Dr Fate and The Force in Star Wars also all work on this paradigm.)

The pulp paradigm doesn't so much posit a difference in magic itself as a difference in who a protagonist of a story could be: the unworthy--for whom magic is a risky proposition--are generally the focus.

So you have Lovecraft characters trying to use forbidden lore to gain knowledge and power, Lieber has the morally somewhat Grey Mouser as a sorcerer's apprentice who can't always get a spell right, and Vance has the inimitably amoral Cugel as much abused by-, as using-, magic.

Tolkien might agree they were getting what they deserved from magic, he just might not agree they were fit subjects for a story. At least not one of his.

In that context, it's easy to see why the game with the famously unreliable magic is also the one where it says right there on the book that you're no hero.

Question: Does this mean cleric spells should be inherently more reliable than wizard ones? My instinct is yes.