Monday, June 29, 2015

I Got Nominated For A Bunch of Awards So Cam Banks Compared Me To Hitler

Sorry I've been posting light--Mandy's been in the hospital again a lot (they've decided to feed her through her heart, which is strange and dangerous but so far ok).

Anyway, it's nice to wake up to see Red & Pleasant Land and the 5th ed Player's Handbook both got nominated for 4 Ennies each! RPL got noms for Best Adventure, Best Setting, Best Writing and Product of the Year.

Contessa also got nominated for Best Blog, so congratulations to Stacy and the crew.

The Ennies require self-nomination, have a small group of judges, and can overlook small publishers, so this is as much a measure of LotFP and the DIY D&D scene's growth since the year Vornheim lost Best Supplement to a bunch of dungeon tiles as it is of anything else but, still, it's a nice thing. I hope to see more stuff like Deep Carbon Observatory, Yoon-Suin and Slumbering Ursine Dunes up there in the future.

Of course these nominations are not a nice thing for everybody. Like, for example, failed game author and RPG drama club weirdo Cam Banks. Remember, this is twitter, so to get the tweets in chronological order, read up from the bottom:

So, kids, while I'll appreciate it if you vote for Red & Pleasant Land, just be aware that doing it makes you like a Nazi.

Red & Pleasant Land:
Identity. Heritage. Xenophobia.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Fantastic Damage

I was thinking there should be a robots-in-the-city game that does for underground hip hop and electronica what Vampire: TM did for goths. I haven't written or more importantly drawn it but it did get me (and False Patrick) thinking about robot games.

After thinking about it way too much, basically I decided the one thing robot games need to have that others don't is hit locations.

Here's some work toward that:

Each body part has an armor die: d4, d6, d8, d10, d12 or d20. Beginning PCs will probably have a d4 in most everything and maybe a d6 or two.

Every weapon has a damage die: d4, d6, d8, d10, d12 or d20.

Body parts used as weapons (punches, kicks, headbutts) generally inflict damage equal to their armor rating. So if your arm is armored up to d8, it does d8 damage when you punch people.

Combat works like this:

Attacker rolls the damage die of the weapon you're using and chooses a body part to attack.

Defender rolls the die of the armor for the body part being attacked.

If the defender rolls high: no damage.

Attacker rolls high, it inflict a number of criticals on that body part equal to the disparity in the dice.

This then requires cool d100 critical charts for each body part, but that's the basic idea.


Also probably want to work in a mechanic where if you give up your attack for the round (or maybe accept a penalty) you can first roll an Agility Die (likewise rated from d4 to d20) to avoid the blow. Beating the opponent by a little means you shift the attack to another limb (or a shield) beating them by a lot means you dodge altogether.

This means the defender is often rolling as much or more than the attacker, which actually seems appropriate for mech combat.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The World's Most Difficult Subject

This is not an argument from biology or tradition, but let's begin with both. Here's a dog:

Chewbacca (pictured above) was born into a life of--by dog standards--magnificent and omnidirectional luxury.

Here is a typical day for Chewie:
Life is chill for Chewie.

Nonetheless, like most dogs, like many of us--Chewie dreams at night of violence, murder, hunting, fight and flight. These are dreams of panic and survival vastly out of proportion to the amount of any of these things he has direct experience with in the waking world.

When Chewie romps, with stuffed toys or other pups, his romps are about attempted murder. More scientifically concrete, if less experientially familiar to the average reader, studies of some of the least molested and most isolated communities of monkeys in the wild reveal that though their daily lives consist 99% of doing seriously fuck-all, their play consists almost exclusively of pretending in one way or another to kill each other and to avoid being killed.

Violence in fiction, which began when the first mammal, Eomaia Scansoria "climbing dawn mother"--a kind of shrew--first lay its head down to dream, and in play--which likely began long before Eomaia, as octopuses, crocodiles and possibly even insects play--thus has a very long tradition. Nearly every genre in pop literature with the exception of some strains of romance is defined by how it uses violence (in a war, in a mystery, at the end after a long chase). There is a lot of it.

As everyone smart in DIY D&D knows, tradition is no excuse for anything. So to get beyond that...

The modern takes on the overwhelming violence in games fall roughly into three camps:

1-Many humans have inherently violent instincts which once helped us survive but now are channeled (pick one: healthily/unhealthily/sometimes healthily) into games of violence.

2-Our fundamentally unfair society has grown in such a way as to be fixated on making people accept or even enjoy violence, and so it shows up in our games.

3-Some mixture of 1 and 2.

These three ideas are incomplete and stupid and, most importantly, insult and underestimate the vast powers of art and leisure.

1 suggests games are merely mental downtime (they aren't) and 2 suggests art's positive role is purely didactic and imitative (you do nothing but parrot what you play). Neither is supported by the science: art actually involves thinking and responding individually and disparately--games especially and RPG doubly especially.


Consider this:

Since Vietnam, fewer and fewer Americans have joined the military. Consequently, when we do go to war, the US government's been increasingly reliant on private security forces--i.e. mercenaries. These private forces (Blackwater, et al) are far less accountable to the nation than their public equivalents and have been responsible for what you could fairly uncontroversially call some fucked up shit.

Point being: whether or not we enjoy violence, there is a kind of violence happening far away from most US citizens that is related in some way to the actions and ideas US citizens have that we should be thinking about. What the correct policy decision to make about mercenaries doing jobs soldiers used to isn't the point: the point is to do anything responsible at all, we should be thinking about it. This is violence that's not on a savannah 300,000 years ago, but now.

Other kinds of violence we should be thinking about: the average city cop's average call on the average day concerns domestic violence, the most powerful nations in the world (via arms trade or direct action) all profit daily from violence, women spend time finding ways to come home at night from work in ways men don't for fear of violence, and, of course, the entire world is the way it is now because of how and when this or that person managed to arrange a monopoly on violence.
Yet in the face of that, the average life of the average game-playing citizen contains (like the happy monkeys alone on that island) no violence at all.

Few people manage to get to become a teenager without the intimation that, even if things are lovely here, there is violence out there: in Rwanda, in the next neighborhood, or in the alleyway behind the bus stop--and they begin to listen to music which processes this violence, and they watch movies which process this violence. Violence and the threat of violence pervade the unconscious of the entire quiet world--and for good reason. Once violence appears, it isn't quiet any more.

The brain is a problem-solving engine, it focuses on bad places because that's where the problems worth solving are. The last century brought us three new things, the third tremendously influenced by the first two:

-Violence on a scale previously unimagined
-An ability for the average person to find out about distant or hidden violence on a scale previously unimagined
-A willingness on the part of artists to talk about violence with a rawness previously unimagined

A key point here is--as an aggregate, as a "more of this, less of this"--what fiction is actually trying to say or is saying is less culturally important than simply bringing the subject up, not letting it sit repressed and undiscussed. A Road Runner cartoon, a DMX song, an Indiana Jones movie, a Friday the 13th movie, a dungeoncrawl may or may not be articulating a new or useful idea about violence, but they exist because violence is a subject every culture's every real and currently functional survival instinct suggests is worth bringing up. Artists as an aggregate would begin to notice they were not doing their job if they didn't include an awareness of violence in their work. The relevance of the subject is, regrettably, evergreen. And any smart person is going to start thinking about a subject once it's in front of them, even if it's in front of them because of a Road Runner cartoon.

Art isn't simply downtime and it isn't simply about making people copy the art: It's exercise. Like stretching expands your range of movement--play expands the range of ways you can think about things, the kinds of creativity you can bring to bear on problems.

In the face of a lack of any evidence that violent games cause widespread societal violence or that they are made by violent or bad people, the new line is that violence in games is "boring" (denotation: "not to my taste" connotation: "unappealing to those of sophisticated sensibilities like mine") or aesthetically conservative. A point of view that pronounces boredom with Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hot Fuzz, West Side Story and King Lear all for the same reason is not the mark of a thoughtful and discriminating critical voice. And: "This work of art is progressive and avant garde because it avoids making you think about the world's most intractable subject" is not really a hill I can see anyone wanting to die on.
Epidemic of nonviolence
Likewise you have to wonder about critics who feel the bizarre need to remind game designers that there are "Other Ways To Solve Problems Besides Violence": The whole reason violence holds such a prominent place in our fiction is because everyday life for most people is pretty much nothing but solving problems without violence. This is not an exotic skillset.

The average person goes to wild lengths to avoid violence even when provoked--look out the window right now no matter where you are and chances are you'll be gazing down on a positive epidemic of problem-solving via nonviolence. Tokyo, birthplace of Godzilla, every fucked-up thing in Takashi Miike's head, the Tokyo Gore Police, and that children's show with the red octopus that just hits everyone with a bat, is a really safe place to live. Since the popularity of art about violence--even the most gleeful, irresponsible, unconsidered violence--is not actually correlated with real societal violence, the strident reminder that art doesn't have to be about violence is just a case of You Must Not Like What I Like Because You've Never Heard Of It.

People who drop that particular monocle fail to grasp basic paradoxes of life: Violence is relatively rare but excruciatingly important. Thinking about things we should not do can help us learn to prevent them. It is breathtakingly unserious to suggest the way to defeat violence is to simply quench some personal attraction to committing it--especially because so many of the people who could address the problem aren't committing it. They're avoiding it--like Tetris does. Attraction to violence isn't their issue--failing to think hard enough about it is.

Violence goes unseen not because there is no violence but because violence likes to be ignored, glossed over, kept secret, smiled past, kept private or (worst of all) delegated to places we choose to ignore. There are great games that don't make violence a central feature: Peggle, Pictionary, soccer, bocce ball, billiards. But there is nothing inherently noble or progressive or difficult or even informative about a game not having violence in it, any more than ice hockey is a threat to the status quo for not having a ball in it. It's just another game. If violence in art bores you all that means is that violence in art bores you. Cauliflower bores me, I don't get all-caps about it.

Being a dick about your taste is still being a dick about your taste--even in the name of nonviolence, the worthiest goal in the world.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Things of Leon

I stole this county full of D&Dables from Noisms. I've subtracted nothing but have added some bits to it in courier below.

If you like it, I encourage you to now steal it from me and append some more stuff to it in some other font and publish it on your own blog. In a week or two or a few weeks we might have a nicely fleshed-out place.

Here is a crude map--the modern day area overlaid with 6 mile hexes.

County of Leon

Ruled by: Aqable - Count of Leon (Liege: Duke of Brittany)
Vassals: Baron of Morlaix, Baron of Douarnenez, Baron of Plogonnec
Military: 15 Heavy Cavalry (Knights), 50 Light Cavalry, 50 Heavy Infantry, 100 Medium Infantry, 50 Archers.
Income: 8,828 livres (Total guess--Deep Evan help out?)

Major Towns

Brest (Hex 40)

Population: 800
Major Industries: Fishing, trade

Count of Leon and family.

Ibn Al-Aziz - An Ogre Magi from the Sheikhdom of Catalyud, now a powerful merchant who owns five vessels, with lots of 'shady' contacts and a symbiotic eye still connected to his sister (an ogre witch) overseas

A wizard living in a lighthouse on the edge of town - advisor to the Count and ambiguous ally. The light is actually a hive of fireflies upon which the wizard experiments.

Juliette de Nevers, a dwarfess sage, researching in the old library - secretly a spy? Not actually, more just a concerned citizen worried she's more capable and informed on local threats than her lord. Still--she's suspected.

Circle of druids - headquarters somewhere in the forest, occasionally come to Brest. They gather information with the help of their owls.


            Wizards Tower - lighthouse, on the rocks on the outside of Brest (Hex 40)
            Ibn's Mansion - also on the outside of town, but on the inland side. (40)
            The Castle - where the Count calls home. (40)
            Old Monastery - housing a library (& Juliette)(40)
            Smuggler's Caves -  ancient cave system, now abandoned - except for monsters - and the smugglers' hoard? The smugglers remain, as skeletal undead. The actual complex somewhat resembles the layout and content Disney's Pirates of the Carribean ride with the revenant creatures still playing out dramas from past lives.(Hex 20)

            Meriadoc's Tomb - burial place of the semi-mythic founder of Brittany, watched over by an order of clerics. The tomb and the clerics' weapons are made of an eerily dense metal. (Hex 14)
            Conomor's Tomb - burial place of an ancient king, now haunted. It is in a swamp--the ghosts are not that of the king, but of his many lovers and victims. A lich is entombed in a bog nearby.
            Tower of Erispoe - once owned by a now extinct noble line, reknowned for the eccentricity. Glass cages are built into the walls, housing exotic reptiles.
            Giant's Cave - not apparently inhabited by a giant, but a clan of ogres. The locals suspect they are connected to the merchant Ibn Al-Aziz but they despise the foreigner.(Hex 49)
            Oessant - island, uninhabited but excellent shelter for raiders. Contains two hidden objects--one blessed, one cursed.(West of Hex 31)
            Witch's Hovel - home of an enchantress. Her features are ever changing--her head bloats into a morbid caricature at whatever woman is most powerful in the county at the time. (Hex 27)
            Castle of Mauclerc - ruined castle, magic treasure inside? There is, but it's in the belly of one of the creatures (or pigs) inside. (Hex 14)

            Adventure Hooks

·       One of Ibn's ships has gone missing and he's certain it's the wreckers in Plogoff, who have caused him trouble before. (It's actually the ogres of the Giant's Cave, but the wreckers are PC-level troublesome dicks--and have treasure. Plogoff is on the coast south of Leon)
·       Juliette de Fevers wants bodyguards to visit the witch with her. They will be alarmed to discover the witch currently wears Juliette's features--because Juliette is sitting on a terrible secret about the Count.
·       A band of gnolls are causing trouble around Morlaix. Their leader communes with the bog lich. (Hex 30) 
·       Pirates spotted around Oessant. They are actually Spanish privateers, including the daughter of a powerful Venetian. Foiling them could result in a full-scale international incident.
·       Druids concerned about a troll. The troll has pustules which burst when struck, expelling poison.
. Pigs are being born with scales like fish.
. The Baron of Douarnenez is rumoured to be negotiating for the return of his food taster from bandits holding him hostage.

                   .  Skeleton warriors around Conomor's Tomb. The bog lich sent them to retrieve an artifact buried with the king which will bring the lich back to life.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

…and then the cleric became a stomach

So our session begins with Ela Darling's ranger ably employing her charlatan background to continue to pretend to be the Black Knight, champion of the Black Wing Church of Tiamat. They walked into the Black Wing camp which was pretty much an '80s Realms of Chaos pain-carnival and, secure beneath a natural 20 Intimidation roll, took up residence in the black knight's tent, got the spellcasters some much-needed rest, told the concubines to take a hike...
...and then looted it. They scored lots of weird items including a set of teeth that:
a) Blind you when you're bit with them
b) When placed singly in your mouth, allow you to channel the dead souls of those slain by users of the teeth.
…which lead to a brief encounter with Unwerth the Obese, a dead jester of northern extraction, who was all "So carriage rides? What's up with those?"…anyway...

The group then sat around trying to decide what to do next.

Brian the wizard (aka Brian the Dragonslayer) then had a decent idea: since Laney was the Knight Viridian and Ela was pretending to be the Black Knight--why not try to take out a few of the the other five Knights of Tiamat before the upcoming tournament to even the odds? They snuck over to the next closest camp--the irradiated camp of the Cobalt Claw.
Knight and Thog of the Cobalt Claw

Brian the wizard (aka Brian the Dragonslayer) then had a terrible idea: walk up to the guards and say they were adventurers with information to sell.

This was a terrible idea because the dragon that Brian the Dragonslayer was renowned far and wide for slaying (and whom Brian has bragged about slaying in every town from Voivodja to Vornheim) was Ferox the Incinerator, god-dragon of Cobalt Reach.

So it's like…

"Take us to your leader we have information"
"Wait here…"
"Guys I totally got this"
"You say you have information for the Cobalt Knight?"
"Yes! I am Brian the…wizard. I have information to sell, but only to the most powerful faction, is that you?"
"Of course, the Cobalt Claw is renowned far and wide for its mastery of magics far beyond the fallow cosmologies of the other Churches"
"Oh yes, I know the Cobalt Reach well…"
"Indeed, Brian?" (Blue wizard succeeds in a history check) "Yes, I will hear your information, come right this way into my tr…I mean tent, …"
So then there was a magnetic trap. Everyone was caught, for the most part. There then ensued a combat, made hilarious by the fact Lunessa the thief had just found a ring which reverses the value system of everyone in a 15 foot radius (friend and foe) which got put on and taken off again twice.

To make a long story short, everyone eventually got away except the druid's owl (killed by a lizardman), the druid's dog (killed by a reptile woman) and the cleric, Mariah, who found herself scrabbling out of the tent into the gaze a passing cobalt beholder.

…which resulted in this shit:

I roll that the beholder can get two of its eye rays to bear this round:

-Stone to Flesh

Crucially, the Stone to Flesh goes first.

Mariah fails her save.

Just as crucially, 5th edition D&D's Stone to Flesh works in stages: you get petrified a piece at a time.

Then the beholder aims the disintegrate at her.

Mariah fails her save again.

There is a wailing and a gnashing of teeth at the table, Mariah is turned to a fine powder that not even the 17th level cleric's Resurrection can turn back into a person…

….except the part of her that was just petrified. I roll the body part die…
…so the wizard manages to telekinese the stomach to safety.

With any luck and a day to rest, the players can prep Flesh to Stone or Greater Restoration, then turn the fragment into a disembodied stomach and then cast a full Resurrection thereafter on said stomach. Until then, Mariah the cleric is naught but a belly...