Sunday, March 30, 2014

You Can't Do That.

One thing about the GM is: they know more about the scenario than the player.

I mean: the player might know more about the equipment they're carrying, but the GM could just ask. The player can't ask "What's behind the next door?"

So anyway, when the player thinks up something and goes "Ok, I'm gonna tie a string to the sword and whip it around my head, and decapitate everyone" or something else clever and the GM says "No" the GM is saying many things with that "No" but one is:

I know this scenario, I know where the treasure is and I know where the monsters are and I know: even if I deny you this, there are still many ways to beat the situation. I am challenging you to think of another one.

It is like in one of those riddles where you can ask yes or no questions. Each 'No' is saying "You thought of something but it won't work" but it's also saying "Try harder. Think more".

'No' is a disastrous thing to say if your game is about a power fantasy, but it's the engine of solution-driven adventures, and games based on the fun of challenging the players to think.

And if the GM says 'no' to too many things, or the GM never has any yesses except the ones s/he expects, then that GM is a bad GM and you get rid of them. Stop electing them to that job.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Space Marines Are The Opposite of Hello Kitty

(or A Biological Homage To Space Marines)

(with awesome Space Marine drawings by Dark Mechanic)

Tom Middenmurk and False Patrick and I were talking about the design of Space Marine miniatures...

I think the key thing about space marines is not simply masculine signifiers (which all kinds of different designs could be said to have in different ways) but the idea of movement as masculinized and, much more importantly Adultified. The emphasis is not on muscles and how muscles move but on the transition between (often muscled) shapes met at joints.

Compare, for example, a Warhammer troll to The Hulk…

The troll has far more distension at the limbs, because the idea is we have to imagine, with this tiny miniature, how one muscle would move against the next. Imagine strapping pencils to your fingertips--suddenly each movement of your hand is more dramatic. The marine has the same principle: compare the marine to the storm trooper--the shoulder pads don't just make the guys big they theatricalize every arm movement--those pads would move when the guy did anything: reach for a grenade, open a pack, even walk.

The pre-eminent real-life example here would be the silverback gorilla. Hulking, hunched, utilitarian but also a display of utilitarianness. The gorilla squats like a parked truck. Potential energy. Mass waiting for something to be massive at.
Look at all the parts that are less important in the marine than in a normal figure: the neck, the chest, the crotch, the thighs. These areas are the transition areas--socket areas. They aren't the parts that do things out in the world.

And the medieval aesthetic is an important component of this: medieval european armor does not (unlike the samurai's skirted armor and ballooning pants) hide movement, it dramatizes it, it is, in many senses an exo--skeleton--the strangeness of the skeleton re-iterated inside out--to emphasize each gorillaish gesture.

I find it, in general, helpful to try to think of the opposite of what I'm thinking of. What's the opposite of the Marine's movement? Hello Kitty's movement. Her head is huge, her limbs are underdetailed and basically afterthoughts.

Her movement is implausible and underexaggerated--it's hard to picture those limbs doing most things limbs do (to see what distortions have to be done in order to put that anatomy into action, look at Vince on Rex the Runt).
Her face expresses something but, more importantly, is just hugely a face. Like a road sign "I am a living organism, feel for me". Whereas, of course the marine's head, even when revealed, is tiny--consciousness and life are the marine's control center: interior, not to be advertised.
What is her aspect? Not just feminine, (and barely feminine) but, more importantly, babyish and neonate. Tom no doubt knows (see "A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse") that "cuteness" is basically about helplessness  not femininity per se . So the Marine is less hypermasculine as hyperadult  hyper utilitarian hyper self-reliant hyper- moving hyper verb (and hyper male adult only secondarily)  . What would hyperfemale adult look like? ...

These extremes do not go unnoticed and, as usual, the idea of reconciling them is too delicious, aesthetically, for some to resist:
Notice how it instantly stops having the aspect we associate with either anatomy? It's just some lumpen third thing.

Patton Oswalt's D&D Club Photo

I'm thinking:

Top row: Fighter, Magic-User, Dwarf*, Paladin, Elf
Bottom Row: Assassin, Magic-User, Elf, Thief


*That one's a freebie.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Guess Right and Win 16 New Monsters...

These five villains have a startling secret--do you know what it is?

Figure it out yet?

Ok, what if I add…

Got it yet?



Still don't have it?

Hint one (highlight to read):
The order is a clue

Hint two:
Many are missing, but the one that should go sixth is the most obvious

Hint three:
Once you get it, when you GM, you know exactly how each villain relates to the others and what they can do. Or at least you can figure it out.

Monday, March 17, 2014

What Did We Learn Today?

-David's stories about D&D on the tour bus with GWAR reveal that Oderus Ungus is exactly the kind of GM you think he is.

-A dedicated ranger in a well-stocked kitchen can cook d4 of these meals by rolling under her level on a d20.

 …come in handy when the hag turns half the party into little kids.

-The Cymric Dirk allows you to learn a new fact about your enemy each time you stab them.

-If you want a unicorn you have to ask where the unicorns are.

-If you want a dinosaur, you have to leave the dungeon.

-Cataloguing all the plants in the Garden of the Bone Sorcerer would take 10 years.

-You can turn white leopard orchid zombies.

-You can play a cleric for 5 years and never turn anything and still get all the way to level 15 .

-The Marilith is neither dead nor impressed with you.

-The Bone Sorcerer has, in addition to copies of the 2nd and 7th Codexes of Demogorgon, a large collection of art from the north in his laboratory:
Pope Xynreich IV of Vornheim by Nosthrik Shard

Allegory of the Hand and Claw by Othriven of the Wasp Places

The Preparer of Spectacles by Nosthrik Shard
Telelelian War Council by Grahmes Nothings

Unknown work of the School of Osc Lithicum

The Puzzling of Voivodja by Clovvis Harrald


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Last Gasp Autogenerators & Eyeball Notebooks

Two things:

1) Ok there's a new incredibly awesome DIY D&D thing in town. Paolo Greco and Logan Knight teamed up to build a random generator maker over at Last Gasp.

Now I know what you're thinking: isn't that just Abulafia

Kinda, but these generators are different in some cool ways:

First, the interface is really easy--no account to make and you can just cut and paste any existing random table right into it, no reformatting--like so:

Second, there's a widget where you can drag the finished generator you made to your browser's toolbar--so you can just hit a button and get a pop-up result. It doesn't require any kind of special software or downloads or anything. Here's my demon generator:

Third--You can put the generator right into your blog like this.

Fourth--and this is subtle but important--it doesn't automatically put your generator in a public archive (though there is one, you can do that, and y'all have permission to automate any of my tables from this blog and put it on there). This, combined with how fast it is to access on your toolbar, means you can make tons of little, specialized tables for things that only matter for your game, setting and mechanics without cluttering up the archive for everybody else. I made 22 of them. Like that example in the picture up at the top refers to hex numbers and features that only come up in my Drownesia setting and the demon generator has sloppy formatting, copyrighted material* and terms on it that don't mean anything to anybody but me--but who cares? I'm the only one who has to use it.

(*Yeah: This means you can take a table right out of a published book and make a generator out of it for your private use and there you go, don't save it to the public archive and you're not breaking the law.)

Say you're making a new dungeon, it's got 8 random encounters on it. Normally it'd be pointless to automate that since it's just one die roll and would take longer to retrieve the generator off the computer than roll the damn die. Not any more, now you can roll that d8 with one click and get the encounter plus a buncha other things that might come in handy wherever you are locally.

It also works on your phone, I hear. Haven't tried that. And it's all free because the DIY D&D community is motherfucking beautiful.

I've run two games since this thing was made and used it several times--it's fantastic. Abulafia is still the go-to if you want tables that draw on other tables or have if-thens in them and with Last Gasp you have to weight the tables by hand (if you want bees to come up more than monkeys you have to write bees more times than you write monkeys) and editing things once you've closed the window is still clunky, but, still--overall--pretty sweet.

Some tips:

a) You can make a generator that spits out between 1 and 7 results. Always make one that spits out 7. I mean, you may think you only want 1 Passing Frigate or Pig-Faced Ork Hat-Type Result? but why not take 7--take the first result if you want it, take the second if it's not. Take 7 if you got 7 hats.

b) Although it only spits out 7 results, you can actually cheat and make it spit out way more like this:

See how in the second picture up there HD, Attacks and AC are all on one line? That's because I put them all in one box on the generator. I made an automatic list of every single combination of those three numbers by going here to the Text Mechanic.

You just fill in the boxes with the values from each table and write labels in between where it says "prefix" and "delimiter", then hit "generate combinations" and you get every possible combo of those values in the bottom box. Then paste that set of numbers into the Last Gasp box.

Anyway: it's awesome and I love it, go make some generators.

2) Second thing--some people have, quite rightly, remarked on Laney's awesome notebook:
Her mom got it for her from an Etsy store called Abbots Hollow Studios . They make weird sketchbooks and other things with eyeballs in them. They do good work...
Journal-----Mythical Beast Book (The Watchful Eye-Black and White  Snakeskin Print with Red eye)

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Champion Of Tiamat Diet

Deep within the jungles of Drownesia lies the Black Pyramid.

And deep within the Pyramid wallows The Viscid King:
A horrific, drooling slug-creature whose role is to anoint the Viridian Knight--choosing that Jade Champion of Tiamat from those who pass through the many trials and dangers of the Pyramid. (Or burn through them with acid they picked up in other peoples' games while looking for treasure. But, hey, the Jade Fang cult is pro- acid, greed and cheating.)

Anyway, this wasn't the first thing the players noticed about the Viscid King. The first thing they noticed was that he was a fat disgusting slug monster that had to die. This impression was possibly abetted by the fact that I represented him on the tabletop with a polish sausage left over from lunch:
(Likely also abetted by the fact that when Laney jabbed him with a poisoned rapier I represented his acidic vomit by spitting on the table. I'm awful.)
Anyway he got fighted with and died in the middle of crushsuffocating Mandy and David when Adam squeezed his lurid gut between a pair of mechanical doors.
Laney's halfling ranger took his crown and I put him in the fridge.
After further chicanery involving, among other things, a 5-foot-deep flood of emerald pythons falling from the ceiling and the demise of the ill-fated Bone Sorcerer the players bethought themselves to escape the dungeon by means of Shadow Step.

And while traversing the Plane of Shadow they met a Shadow Minister on the cobbled streets. He was alarmed that he could no longer feel the presence of the Viscid King--for only when the King finally chose a new Viridian Knight to lead the Armies of the Jade Fang would the Shadow Minister be released from his planar tether to the Black Pyramid.

"What has become of the Viscid King?" asked the Shadow Minister.
"I'm the new king!" Laney joked, brandishing his stolen crown.
"Excellent!" said the Shadow Minister and pointed to her.

"Laney," the GM said "you gain (roll roll) 53 pounds".
"WHAT THE FUCK!?!" said Laney
She continued to gain d100 pounds each round and her skin began to pale and speckle. She became ever more slugly. "It was just a joke!" Laney cried (failing a charisma roll)--but the Shadow Minister insisted there must be a replacement king. How else could a new Viridian Knight one day be found? How else could the Minister escape?

The players were frantic: Could the curse that tied the Minister to the Pyramid be lifted? Could he be killed? Could another king be found, could...

"I'll be the Viridian Knight!" said Laney.

…and in one stroke, the quiet ranger took up the panoply of war and the modest halfling took on a terrible burden.

…"though I don't know what that means."

The new, strange armor crept across her diminishing body.

"I just didn't want to be fat!" said Laney.