Sunday, February 28, 2021

10+20 Setting Questions for Sci-Fi Games

Michael Prescott recently had a post about the dearth of sci-fi games getting played on a broad scale. I agree that this is a crying shame, and attribute it to the fact that fantasy requires very little buy in (misremembered history and a bit of TV will suffice for even absolute newbies) while sci-fi comes with significantly more moving parts and potential expectations and concepts that need to be dealt with.

So to aid with that, here's a questionnaire.

Luther Gutekunst has beaten me to this (by a significant margin!) with a practical questionnaire of his own, so I will be writing questions that attach neatly to him own without reduplication.

Luther's questions are:

  1. What do PCs do?
  2. What's the setting's scale?
  3. What level of tech will PCs generally have?
  4. What's the highest level of technology?
  5. Are there any psychic abilities, superpowers, etc?
  6. How do I improve my character?
  7. What's the most important faction in the area?
  8. Where can I get normal equipment?
  9. Where can I get illegal / dangerous equipment?
  10. How do I heal myself?

My additions are:

  1. What miracles (clear deviations from what is possible in reality) exist in the setting?
  2. How do people get from A to B? What is it like in terms of speed, scope, accessibility?
  3. Where do people live, in general?
  4. What is the average quality of life like?
  5. What are the points of conflict in this society? 
  6. What are some commonplace technologies players will interact with?
  7. What's something that technology has fucked up?
  8. What's something that technology has fixed?
  9. What are the most valuable goods and resources?
  10. What are the most valued personal beliefs?
  11. What goods / behaviors / beliefs are banned?
  12. Who enforces the structures of power?
  13. Can PCs own a ship normally, or will they have to steal one?
  14. Does alien life exist? What's its scope? Microbial? Rare, common, exotic? Sapient? 
  15. Can AI be made or become conscious?
  16. Is it possible to digitize and upload a mind?
  17. Who counts as a person?
  18. Who is this future for? Who survived, who benefits?
  19. Who has been excluded? Who suffers, who is exploited?
  20. What's the overall tone like?

 

If you've got more, list them in the comments (or even better, make your own posts for them!)


 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Class: Sword Devil

Lochiel


I found our sword-demon a short distance from camp, sitting atop a low stone wall from which he could watch the entire valley. The ruins below were by then cloaked in shadow, save the remaining belltower.

"What do you make of it?" I asked him.

"I've seen two war-wights in the last hour, or the same war-wight twice. They're getting antsy."

That itself wasn't surprising news: Linus and Berenike had estimated the same when they did their scouting run during the safety of daylight.

"Do you think it will be a problem?"

"Not if I get to 'em first." His head swiveled like an owl's, bright teeth gleaming. "If it's just the one, or two on their own, no trouble for you lot. But, could be that there are more of them down there, or a graveraiser leading them. Then it'll be plenty of trouble." Swivel back to watching the valley, gold eyes aglow in the dying sunlight. "For you, of course. If they get to you first. I don't think they will."

He left the "because I will have already killed them" unspoken, treating it as a given. Such was the way of a sword-devil. I gave him my assent and left him to his business - he had told me enough.

As I walked the path back to camp, I caught traces of singing from behind me, accompanied by the steady punctuating rasp of a whetstone.

"Awé dékapitoré, tu joyeu dé bastardé Mor."

Class: Sword-Devil

Third of the nine ranks of devils, and the most common to be seen outside of a diabloarium. Their domain is violence by means of sharp edges, and their home is the Flensing Tower.

Sword-devils are driven above all by their desire to master the blade-arts, compete against their kin, and usurp their father-mother Azazel, megaduke of bladed instruments. This makes them remarkably straightforward among devils, as they have long understood that humans are good at inventing opportunities for violence without any effort on the devil's part. For this reason they are commonly found in the company of soldiers, cutters, and venators.

Their skin is typically grey or blue, and their eyes white or gold. They tend towards glee in their work, and either sleepy indolence or jittery impatience when there is no violence to be found. They do not hate. They will fight anything, but adore fighting particularly skilled or novel opponents. Better yet, other sword-devils.

**

Bound By Rules - During character creation, the players should decide which one of them is the bearer of the contract. This character can be the original summoner, or might simply be the person who the contract was passed to. Contract scrolls might be found as treasure out in the world (an excellent way to introduce a replacement character mid-session).

Live By The Sword - Sword-devils cannot die. Not properly, at least. Should they lose all their HP, they will dissipate into a roiling cloud of oily smoke. They may be resurrected from any corpse human-sized or larger (erupting from it in a most impressively gory display) through a magic user casting their contract scroll, using either spell dice or a spell slot of level = the sword-devil's hit die.

No Shield Shall Stop Me - Your attacks against non-supernatural entities ignore AC bonuses granted by armor. Armor will reduce damage by 1 (light), 2 (medium) or 4 (heavy) instead.

Blade-Arts

The blade-arts work like magic dice - you get a d6 for each level up to 4. You may roll any number of these during your attacks, choosing effects from the below list in any combination. Dice devoted to one effect cannot be used for another. Dice that come up 4+ are removed from the pool until after a long rest.

Backfoot Style - A sword-devil's base AC is 10. They will gain +2 for each unburnt blade-die they currently have at their disposal.

  • Gain +[DICE] to hit
  • Deal +[Sum] damage
  • Teleport within [SUM] x 5 feet (line of sight) to make an attack as bonus action
  • Gain a specific damage type (auto burn die)
  • Gain an additional attack (auto burn die)





Thursday, February 18, 2021

A Brief Taxonomy of Fantastic Beings

My long-fermenting bestiary post is delaying itself by sheer length, so I am splitting it up into the taxonomy, and the creature list itself. Prior posts in this series:

I have mixed feelings about Gygaxian naturalism. On the one hand, I find it stifling and artificial, without grace or freedom - I am STILL salty, years later, that a 5e DM didn't allow me to use "Speak with Animals" with a Cloaker because, despite clearly being an animal, it is described as an aberration. 

On the other...science is fucking great. I have forgotten more about the classifications of dinosaurs than many folk will ever know in their entire lives

Thankfully for my purposes, Gygax was a terrible naturalist and his nonsense can be tossed aside in service of something better.

The Taxonomy

As with any good system of taxonomy, it's best to treat this as an in-universe artifact. Something that wizards get in arguments over during faculty luncheons. Fists can and will be thrown.

**I**

On the Laws of Material Necessity

  • Lex Famis - That a being possesses the need for nourishment so as to live.
  • Lex Excrementi - That a being is subject to processes of balance, that what goes in shall go out.
  • Lex Sexum - That a being possesses the drive to generate more of its kind.
  • Lex Mortis - That a being shall, in time, cease and die.

Some scholars expand this to seven or even ten laws, but four will suffice for our purposes. 

Or, in short: It eats, shits, fucks, and dies.

**II**

On Cogitatium

Cogitatium is damnably difficult to define, and great amounts of ink and blood have been spilled over figuring out precisely what it entails. Wizards rarely agree on topics, and on this one they agree least of all, for wrapped up in the question of "what is cogitatium?" is the greater question of "who is a person?"

Classically, cogitatium is considered to be "the possession of a rational mind." Modern scholars have mostly abandoned this reductive definition, on the grounds that using humans as a baseline for rational behavior is some dumb bullshit, and that whoever came up with that definition had never actually interacted with another human being in all their life.

In the modern age, two schools of thought have emerged.

The first is a nuanced approach, the mind along a great spectrum where cogitatium and the mes animalis are intertwined and inseparable, stretching up and down a scale of complexity, and whose component traits likewise exist along their own gradients.

The second school of thought is that cogitatium is the ability to perform immensely stupid behavior and brag about it later.

(Lexi on Discord had an even better one: "cognition is when you can have a choice between multiple options and choose the worst, typically out of spite, guilt, or love". Deus ex Parabola had "the ability to choose suboptimal behavior", which is also great.)

**III**

On the Varieties of Life and Beings of the World

Categorization is a great way to start nerd fights. The divisions of life are forever debated in the halls of wizarding universities. This is one of the more common schemas in use. (Come up with your own! I would very much like to see them.)

  • Bacteria - Simplest of all material life, invisible without the aid of instruments. Often manifest in the form of diseases. 
  • Plantae et Fungi - Vegetative life. 
  • Animalia - Material beings subject to the Laws. Members tend to have a secondary classification added on (Vermes, Limus, Arthropoda, Crustacea, Mollusca, Pisces, Amphibia, Reptilia, Dinosauria, Aves, Mammalia, Etcetera, Alienae) and may have a tertiary label applied as well, which include:
    • Domesticia - Domesticated animals.
    • Fera - Wild (that is, dangerous) animals.
    • Sophi - Animals possessing traits of cogitatium, but have yet to come into its fullness.
    • Paradoxa - Animals that fit into no other category or violate one of the Laws. This is a very vague label and tends to be applied according to foppery and whim.
  • Gentes Mundi - Material beings subject to the Laws and possessing cogitatium. 
  • Gentes Alienae - Material beings that, though they possess cogitatium and are subject to the Laws, are radically different in how they fulfill and express these qualities, respective to the animalia and gentes mundi known and studied in the world.
  • Sagani - Material beings that possess cogitatium, but are freed from one or more of the Laws of Material Necessity. While they may often display language, material culture, craft and likewise (setting them apart from animalia) their cogitatium displays a tendency towards less wild swings of volition.
  • Animae - Spiritual beings freed from the Laws entirely. They might take a material form as a temporary projection, but they are not bound to this incarnation. While animae may be communicative, they do not possess cogitatium and will act according to their predetermined nature.
    • Split into possessive spirits (tenerae), manifesting spirits (incarnatiae), and numinous spirits (numinae).
  • Automatae - Material beings that are animated by an outside force, but possess no life of their own and never have.  
There are five additional categories that might be applied in addition to the above.
  • Lusus Naturae - A category for beings and clades of beings that are related to another, but drastically different in physiology or behavior from what is held as the default clade.
  • Sine Mors - Material beings that have died, but have since been animated by an outside force (typically an anima).
  • Monstrum - A contested definition. Typically held as a being whose existence is a direct and persistent threat to humans without additional outside impetus.
  • Contentia - Beings whose taxonomy is subject of heated debate among scholars. This will usually be along the lines of sagani vs animae. Entries labeled contentia will include the most commonly-used definition. 

So, for example, the Lowland Armored Redshell would be a member of Animalia crustacea domesticia, and the blind olmfolk of the Duruland Caves would be Gentes Mundi (Animalia amphibia), Lusus naturae

**

The next post in this series will be the full list of beings, as I cannot find an excuse to delay any longer.

My eyes were clearly larger than my stomach.





Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Answering Setting Questions, Triple Deluxe Edition

For a setting I don't actually play games in, I will never turn down an opportunity to gab about Mother Stole Fire.

Via Lochiel (Nothic's Eye)

1) Which specific NPC do I want to piss off the least? 

Probably the White Queen and Black Queen of Tanniclen, they likely have the most personal and political power in the area in terms of practically making your day miserable. Now, the advantage here is that you have to get into the Old City in the first place - but if you can make it beyond the wall, you'll doubtlessly commit ample insult to the Queens just by being there and doing what you do, and they will find ample excuse to ruin your life afterwards with all the grace and sophistication of immortal noble sorceresses.

Given their isolation, actual meaningful details about the Queens are hard to come by, save the various designs of their body-veils. Their histories (and the nature of their relationship to each other), are a matter of intense (often lurid) speculation - thought that is all safely done outside their jurisdiction.

2) Which god should I want to piss off the most? 

Any of the Lords of Hell would suffice. Fuck them. Mammon in particular, as he seems to have come into prominence over the more directly warlike Lords in the wake of the War of the Bull. Thankfully, he is not subtle. Destroying his demons is good, stealing and distributing his wealth all the better.

3) What's the worst thing I could meet at a crossroads? 

Old Scratch, also called the Crooked Man or the Patchwork Man, is a very old demon of the Hespermont, predating Hell significantly. He preys upon desperation, offering gifts that are helpful in the short term, but will inevitably lead to self-destruction later. His favored appearence is that of a man in dark clothing, fine-looking but always a few generations out of style. Somewhere on his body will be a horrific injury - he will act as if nothing is wrong, moving without impediment even if limps are mangled and speaking clearly even if his jaw and throat are smashed.

4)What's the nearest thing that can utterly destroy me to your starting town? Or starting town equivalent? 

A demon. Nasty fuckers can show up anywhere (though they are, typically nastier and more common the closer you are to Hell.)

5) Is apotheosis open to my character? If not, why not?

Depending on who you ask, apotheosis has happened between zero and three times: DOG, Darvatius, and the Sable Maid. The ascension of DOG is generally agreed upon; Darvatius' is called into question on the grounds that Darvatius the man was killed long before Darvatius the Lord of Hell was first seen in Hell. The Sable Maid's case is complicated, and  is best described as a comparison to Catholic treatment of Mary - technically not a god, technically not worshiped, but when you've got a problem...

So no, asterisk. It is theoretically possible, but the criteria required to reach godhood are out of the scope of a typical game.


6) Do people in your world have souls? Why? 

Yes, but they are fragile, ephemeral flames. Without a living body to house and nurture them, they dissipate. Ghosts, necromany, soul-pearls, and the currency of Hell do not use souls proper, but their remnants, dregs, and afterimages.

It is possible to create a form of soul artificially, but this will be a motive soul - homunculi, even those few that possess speech, do not possess volition of their own. Considering the difficulty in creating them, they remain a curiosity

A devil is created when the soul is removed from a human (via removal of the heart) but the body's life is sustained through those certain sorceries (and of course undone if the heart should ever be returned to the devil in question)

7) Does jazz exist in your setting yet?

Yes. Blues and bluegrass, too.

8) What's the weirdest country/polity/region/area on your map? 

  • Llaphedon is an island covered in fungus jungle, filled with immortal mushroom people building an enormous black ziggurat
  • Amda long ago solved the constant squabble-wars of its kingdoms and principalities by mandating that kings may only marry other kings and heirs are adopted.
  • Ist fell into ruin when its rulers were devoured by manticores.
  • The Coast of Birds is named for several hundred miles of shoreline where one might find enormous statues of birds facing the sea. No one knows where they came from or who made them.
  • The Cinders is, as best anyone cal tell, an ancient exclusion zone caused by arcane fallout. The concerning part is how thorough its ontological hostility to life is.
  • The Magelands are soaked through with wild magic and are home to the only people who are magic instead of practicing it. It is encircled by the crumbling wall-arcology-city of Mund.
  • Wend is a xenophobic cultural and linguistic isolate and no one can quite figure out where they came from - the inhabitants have claimed to come from Atri-Thool in the Uttermost North, but scholars A) are pretty sure it doesn't exist B) are baffled why anyone would live in the Uttermost North to begin with.


9) Do guns exist yet? If they do, is there anything making them weird/different?

An ordinary person might see or use bolt action rifles and revolvers, and cannons are regularly used in warfare. Hell will utilize machine guns on occasion (which has lead to no one else adopting them). Simple enchantments on ammo (named and blessed bullets being the most common) are easy enough to procure. The gun saints of An-Hehm are the ones who get very creative and esoteric, and their devotion to the Gun Gods means they have something of a monopoly on exotic weapon types. 

10) Is there a divide between mundane/magical animals? 

There's more of a gradient between more and less magical. Some creatures will have overt magical properties, some passive, some subtle. Is "turns you to stone" more or less magical that "thing that can fly but shouldn't be able to"? If the cows start up a crop circle ritual, is that or is that not magic?

Via Vayra (Mad Queen's Court

1) What class knows the most martial arts? Are they real martial arts like kung fu, or made up ones like krav maga?

In-setting: Ordinary folks might know a bit of river forms (read: tai chi) for exercise. Soldiers will likely know a bit of pankration (here being a particularly succinct way of dealing with a combat problem rather than wrestling). 

In terms of gameplay - adipomancer or adept are dedicated classes, fighters in general will be able to do things like grapples and disarms and joint attacks.

2) Can I start out having already made a deal with the devil or do I have to do that in game?

Oh yes, absolutely.

3) Do you want me to write an 8-page backstory? Can I write an 8-page backstory, if I want to? If I write something down in it like I'm the timelost princess of the brass city and the daughter of the sun and I commanded legions in the Hell War but was betrayed by my father's vizier but I don't know that, or that I'm elf conan and cooler than everyone else, will that be true?

8 pages is a bit more than I'd ever recommend for any game in any setting, but those two examples I can work with - offer things that are of the same spirit, tweaked for whatever setting happens to be on the table.

4) If I eat someone's heart, will I gain their powers? What about their brain?

Probably, also probably, and both will probably go horribly wrong for you, because that's how monsters tend to be made.

5) These classes are boring, can I be one from somewhere else? What about from a different system entirely?

Yeah we can figure out some conversion for it.

6) If I make a sword, which one of us gets to name it?

Player makes it, player names it.

7) Am I allowed to kill the other player characters? What would I have to do to be allowed to? Do I win if I kill them all? Actually, how do I win in general?

A question entirely too rooted in the specific situation at hand for this answer to be meaningful at all.

8) What language stands in for 'Common'? Or what are we all talking to each other in? Like the party, mostly, but also everyone else?

I have not figured it out in setting yet, come back later.

9) How do I learn how to talk to rocks? No not once a day just, like, normally?

I'm sure that the mouldywarps could teach you, if you have the patience for it.

10) Which kinds of wizards get to serve kings and live in towers and shit and which ones are run out of town or stoned to death in the streets? Can I be both? At the same time?

Both is good, typically because wizards in towers cause problems and sometimes these problems are solved by throwing rocks at them, so long as the problem is a wizard causing other problems.

Via Filth Pig (The Slopyard)

1. Is there Blood Magic? Necromancy? Can I start off with these powers or do I have to get them d-d-d-diegetically? Will these things get me hanged/drawn, quartered and burned over water/tortured/burned at the stake? Is your Necromancer working off the "divination from the dead" definition or is it cool?

The most common magic in the world is, technically, blood magic, on account that it's used to stabilize and mitigate menstruation. Every woman in the world can either perform it, or knows someone who can brew up the potion form.

Blood magic on the whole is less of its own category and more just "magic that involves this certain part of the body.

Necromancy is primarily practiced in the Necromantic Socialist Republic, which might get you killed in certain parts of the world but at that stage it's more just the easiest excuse. It is the cool kind, with skeletons.

You can start off with either or both.

2. Will my limbs get hacked off? Can I get new limbs? Do they have to be human or can I have monster parts? Is there a class that does all this or is it just an NPC?

If limbs get removed, your options are, from easiest to most difficult:

Simple prosthetic > advanced prosthetic > reattaching the arm > replacing it with someone else's arm > replacing it with a monster arm.

The last one would require a specialist fleshcrafter, the two before it would need either that or a lot of panacea potion.

3. When was the last plague in the setting and how soon can we expect the next one? Can we swindle people by selling fake plague cures? 

The Plague Years were roughly two centuries ago and there's no telling if or when there might be another one. Mundane disease outbreaks happen from time to time (certain cities in Acephavara can't seem to shake ghoul-leprosy), but on the whole the world is on the ball when it comes to containment and elimination of epidemics.

Fake plague cures will be sniffed out almost immediately, it's hardly worth the time of the swindle.

4. Cannibalism gives you: A) Kuru, B) Magical Powers, C) Full stomach, D) Yet Another Unexpected Twist ?
 
Funerary cannibalism, performed according to the proper rites, won't cause any problems. Moments of desperation, likewise. Consuming significant amounts, especially if you are killing the people yourself with the intention of eating them, is probably going to turn you into a horrifying monster.
 
So C -> A -> B/D


5. What's can't I do that isn't super obvious?

Hrm. Can't tell you off the top of my head, it's not super obvious to me either.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

100 More Planet Names for Mothership

The first 100 can be found here.

Our Next Port of Call Is...

  1. ‘Nnalubaale
  2. [Naming Rights Under Arbitration]
  3. [Quarantine Zone]
  4. Angeldown
  5. Atwood
  6. Avaris
  7. Awan
  8. Azura
  9. Bedrock
  10. Big Lake
  11. Bigrock Candymountain
  12. Bluegrass
  13. Cadaver
  14. Caladino
  15. Catastropé
  16. Colakmul
  17. Cuball
  18. Cybele
  19. Dead End
  20. Dholavira
  21. Dogwood
  22. Dougal’s World
  23. Dumpling
  24. Earth: The Interactive Experience
  25. Erewhon
  26. Erie
  27. Falling Water
  28. Firozkoh
  29. Foreclosure Ongoing
  30. Forrent
  31. Friars’ World
  32. Glitterstorm
  33. Gloamwald
  34. Godhead
  35. Grand Panama
  36. Grand Zanzibar
  37. Greenchapel
  38. Havana
  39. Hildegard
  40. Holocene
  41. Honeypot
  42. Hotpot
  43. Intuition
  44. Judith’s World
  45. Kenorland
  46. Klakwurk
  47. Koganusan
  48. Kokabiel
  49. Kumasi
  50. Lotus
  51. Lumbini
  52. Mahadeva
  53. Mara
  54. Miami Blitz
  55. Miasmata
  56. Micromegas
  57. Moth
  58. Murugan
  59. Namdaemun
  60. New Appalachia
  61. New Earth
  62. New Earth (TM)
  63. Newerfoundland
  64. Niani
  65. Nova Tierra
  66. Outer Limit
  67. Ozark
  68. Palatine
  69. Pavlopetri
  70. Pelagius
  71. Pòtoprens
  72. Qusqu
  73. Rao
  74. Rasputin
  75. Recursion
  76. Roko
  77. Rudramal
  78. Sagani
  79. Salaam
  80. Sappho
  81. Scarland
  82. Schrodinger's World
  83. Semele
  84. Shackleton
  85. Silmarech
  86. Smokehouse
  87. Spider’s Nest
  88. Sub Rosa
  89. Sunset
  90. Terra Incognita
  91. Terra Secunda
  92. Titivilius
  93. Topsy
  94. Troghome
  95. Truename
  96. Tulu
  97. Vaalbara
  98. Whisper
  99. Wroth
  100. Your Ad Here

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Three Dread Horrors: A Legend of Korra Post

A sequel of sorts, to this post. Brought about by the news that Magpie Games got the RPG license for the series.

God, this was depressing to write. But y'all on Twitter wanted this instead of the happy fixfic post and I seek validation, so here we go.

**

The Legend of Korra horrifies me.

It's not the "I have learned a new fact about wasps" kind of horror, nor the "fucking loud noise as something suddenly appears on screen" kind of horror. It is the horror that lives in oily voice that I have heard in the depths of certain long, dark nights of the soul. A near-guarantee that its presence is unintentional, but intention is outclassed by end result eleven times out of ten.

It took me some time to reach this conclusion. In fact, it took me until I started writing this post, and the revelation was enough to make me want to quit writing it. But, perhaps there might still be use for it. Good critique is rooted in the experience of the thing, and I certainly have an experience to share.

I have not rewatched LoK since it aired. I have no plans on rewatching it. The contents of this post are all just my own memory and some reference to episode transcripts, and might have corroded with time. I accept any corrections that might be made.

(A side note: There is a great deal of critique made in bad faith about LoK, rooted in sexism or queerphobia or the possessive throws of the nostalgia-daemon or good old fashioned kvetching. Fuck those guys and fuck the dissolution of the critique into nitpicking for internet points. But I do enjoy myself a good kvetch now and then (and I certainly have them for this series), and to avoid going down that road I will stay away from the (many, many) issues I have with little things (god fucking damn that stupid fucking platinum mecha with a laser cannon) and focus on three points in particular.)

Three dread horrors.

THE FIRST HORROR

In the second episode of the series - just at the beginning of her airbending schooling - Korra is introduced to a simple device used for footwork training: a series of rotating wooden gates. It's an introductory lesson used to teach footwork to novices.

Korra runs face first into them, repeatedly. Swiftly growing frustrated with her failures, she destroys the device in a fit of rage. To which her mentor Tenzin exclaims:

"That was a two-thousand-year-old historical treasure!"

The scene is meant to illustrate Korra's childishness, her impatience, her uncontrolled angry outbursts. All fine and good, those are character flaws, character flaws are good. We can work with character flaws.

But...

There's really no good way to put this, is there?

Korra just destroyed one of the few remaining artifacts of the Air Nomads right in front of the son of the only survivor of their genocide. Not even out of hate - She destroyed it because martial arts training was going slower than "instant mastery". 

Draw whatever real-life parallels you wish, there are certainly plenty that can fit in, and no matter which one you choose it's going to get really bad really fast when I say that the script forgives her. By the end of the episode Tenzin apologizes for being too impatient and strict. The tantrum is swept under the rug. The incident is never mentioned again.  

In some other story, this would be an inciting incident. The thing that puts Korra on the path to realizing "oh, I'm a huge piece of shit". It's not, here.

The show is, in its way, saying that it doesn't matter. Doesn't matter that Korra throws tantrums like an infant, doesn't matter that apparently Katara wasn't able to get through to her with any sort of meaningful mentorship, doesn't matter that the genocide of the Air Nomads even happened. Tenzin is being unreasonable about some wooden boards and dowels.

Tenzin is being unreasonable.

Doesn't matter that the entire nation is hanging on by the thread of a few surviving artifacts and the memory of a twelve-year-old, or that the man has three kids, a fourth on the way, a position on city council, and is trying to rebuild an entire culture off of next to nothing. 

He and Aang probably went out and found those gates together. 

I wonder, does Tenzin ever catch himself in idle moments thinking "I should give dad a call"?

Fucking hell.

THE SECOND HORROR

LoK's first season finds its antagonists in the Equalists - a movement of Republic city's disenfranchised  non-benders protesting against the gross inequality perpetuated by the bender-dominated government and bender-dominated police force (who, of course, do nothing to stop the bender-dominated criminal triads either) that has built up enough support and momentum that they have begun taking direct action, staring against the triads.

So, obviously and of course, it is revealed later on that the movement was founded and led by an outside agitator (a bender, no less) who was using them purely as a means to his own personal revenge, AND that it was funded and supplied by the local billionaire industrial mogul...

Replace the proper nouns and you have a FOX segment about Black Lives Matter. While BLM was not extant as we know it when the show was being written, it is not like conspiracy as a genre is terribly creative - this idea has been mad-libbed a hundred times over.

I can't tell if this was malice or incompetence. It could be said that the writers were simply not thinking about this when plotting the series. To that, I say, that the things that people do when they are not thinking are often very telling about their ingrained biases and values.While charitable interpretation asks that we consider a work as a piece effected by its time (and thus, when we return to it later, the author's views might have shifted since the time of writing), that is an explanation, not an excuse.

(Also the Equalist moment dissolves and is never featured again after said outside agitator is no longer in the picture. They get a token representative seat on city council and, as far as the greater story is concerned, are a solved problem.)

Special sidetrack segment: The Equalist plot is what I like to call "Antagonist Ideology Sabotage" - this is when the antagonist of a story is in the right. They are more justified in their motivations than the protagonist, and if they accomplish what they are trying to do the world of the story will likely be much better for it.

So, in order to maintain the status quo of the setting (and thus, not rock the boat of the industry they exist within), the writer or writers or producer or the suits sabotage the antagonist by making them so bloodthirsty that they simply must be stopped. Maybe there's some cackhanded moral about they had good intentions but you can't go about seeking change that way.

An excellent other example is in Black Panther. Killmonger is fucking correct, his anger is true and justified, so they decided to make him a murderer who wants to start WW3 and T'challa, who is not so angry, gets to be the hero for opening up a community center and peaceably doing not much of anything at all.

THE THIRD HORROR

At the end of the third season, the chain of reincarnation is partially severed. The Avatar will continue reincarnating forward, but can no longer reach backward - the older incarnations are gone. There is now only Korra, and when the next avatar comes around she will be the only counsel they will receive.

Thousands of years of human experience, millennia of lived history, all the memories of who we are and where we have been - snuffed out. Extinguished. And in the ashes of all those lives, now lost forever, is someone who has fallen in love with the owner of Ford - United Steel.

That's where we leave this series, the final note of the AtLA universe - the union of the world's balance-keeper and the scion of industrial capitalism. And without the elder incarnations to guide future avatars, with only Korra there, I see nothing but a gaping black hole where the future should be.

This is the final horror. The victory of liberal capitalism, gallivanting off into the future suffering no lasting consequences from the horrors it has spawned. Here's Amazon, Google and Tesla dusting off their rainbow flags for a month as they grow ever fatter off the exploitation of their workforce. The course is set, the path is clear, there is no way to avoid the path we here in the real world have tread. Here will be the world stripped barren, its water poisoned, its air polluted, its people devoured. Here is that final monologue of A Machine for Pigs, that desperate cry of "This is your coming century!"

The voice in the dark unfurls its smile, the one with too many teeth, and says "Ah, you fool. Did you expect anything different? Did you really think things would get better?"

And that's the end of it.

** 

There was a post written by Michael DiMartino (now gone but thankfully still archived) when Man of Steel was coming out, wherein he expresses his appreciation of the film's interpretation of Jonathan Kent as follows:

"The father represents any parent, or institution, or religion, or government that wants to prevent you (or me) from coming into our own and expressing who we truly are"

This was the movie, mind you, where Jonathan Kent gets angry at Clark for saving a schoolbus full of children.

You know why Superman is Superman? It's not the super strength or the blue pajamas or the alien thing. It's because Pa Kent was a good man. If Pa Kent is not a good man, then there can be no Superman.

And just like Zach Snyder's pizza cutter, LoK is a thematic betrayal of its source material. A complete one-eighty. Total negation. Where there was empathy, there is now the dismissal of suffering. Where there was hope, there is now only the mocking laughter of nothing ever changing. There is now only the halls of power now, and their Principle Act. (See, I knew you were waiting for me to drop M-L-CH in this essay but HA I have subverted your expectations by doing exactly that, only at a different time!)

No wonder Tenzin got done dirty. Hell, they did everyone dirty. Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph, Zuko, Suki, Pema, Lin...shit they just did the entire adult cast dirty like that.

(God Pema got a perfect chance to shine and it got wasted on making her the butt of a joke. Come on the woman has four children, two of whom are ADD and three of whom know magic kung fu she knows how to handle high-stress situations.)

All for what, for the sterling and memorable characters like Mako, who was so boring that he inspired a bisexual awakening for two successive girlfriends and also became a cop, and that is his entire character? Or Bolin, the man who joined the fascists because we needed him to do something this season?

Honestly that summarizes the show pretty well. Korra and her friends the cop, the industrialist, and the idiot.

Sigh.

That's enough of this nonsense. Back to work on something less miserable.



Sunday, February 7, 2021

Jojiro's GM Exercises

Jojiro put together a series of questions for GMs, and I shall answer them.

Question Set 1

1. Your players arrive in an abandoned city – the first thing they do is enter a home, asking what’s left of the pantry. What do you say to them?

"You find dust, cobwebs, old rat shit, and a pile that might once have been a sack of grain. There is also a mummified corpse with a large hole in its skull and a flintlock pistol in one hand. There is very faint smell - rot-sweetness, sulfur, burning oil. [Cleric], you recognize this as the smell of a demonic possession."

2. Your players want to talk to a city magistrate about an unpopular idea of theirs. In order to catch the magistrate off-guard, they approach early in the morning. What state do they find the magistrate in?

"He's on his way to his business for the city council. He does not appreciate the interruption, but he might be willing to delegate dealing with you to one of his assistants or functionaries just to get you out of his hair."

3. During character creation, a player mentions that they want a naturally blue-haired character. Not for any particular reason, you were envisioning your campaign setting without this possibility. How do you respond?

"Are you okay with playing a mutant or someone from way off the edges of the map?"

4. Read the following entry for a “point of interest”, and then refine how you would present it in a game in some way. You might change how you would describe it out loud, edit it in writing, add typographical emphasis (bold, italics, underlining) for a play-by-post game, etc.

In practice at the table, it would end up like this.

"In the glade there is an ancient shrine. Six enormous granite pillars, engraved with bas-reliefs of the ash drawf ancestor-gods and wrapped in ivy, surround a pool of simmering, steaming water. You can make out a bright orange-red form in the pool, about the size and shape of a crocodile. It spurts out a gout of steam and hrrmmphs."

Should they investigate the water directly, I would then say "[Wizard], you can identify the water as granting protection from fire if drunk."

If there's an ash dwarf or an anthropolgist in the group, I'll add "miners would stop here to bless themselves before going up to the volcano to dig for ore."

In my notes, it would likely just be

Ancient ash dwarf shrine

  • Guardian salamander
    • Harmless to anyone who treats it and the shrine with due respect.
  • Water grants protection from fire


5. Your players enter a dungeon you have prepared, and leave after being spooked by the monsters within. In truth, they are more than powerful enough to overcome the threats of the dungeon, and well-equipped to do so. One of the players asks you, “Do you think we’re ready for this dungeon?” How do you answer?

"Yeah, you should be good." I might remind them of something they've encountered that might help - jogging the PCs' memories.

6. One of your players has a spell, speak with insects. They use it to speak with a spider, at which point another player points out that it shouldn’t work. The first player is obviously disappointed, and looks to you hopefully for you to overrule the other player. You don’t remember the actual details of how the spell works, but your rulebook is handy if you need to look it up. What do you do?

"The spell is much more generalist than the name suggests, because the original form was "Cum vermes loquam" and made no distinction between insects, arachnids, worms, crustaceans et cetera. This is because the wizards who made it were basing their classification of life on the work of a philosopher who had already been dead for 1400 years and thought that flies had five legs. Fuckin' wizards, what are you gonna do.

Reflection Time 1: If a player wants something, I'll make up a setting reason for it on the fly. Certain classes get additional information just from observation. The abandoned city needs a reason to be abandoned and it needs introduced early to increase dread. 

Question Set 2

7. (response to 1) “There’s nothing in the pantry.”

This can be valid in some circumstances, but it's a missed opportunity to provide flavor / introduce other elements.

8. (response to 2) “The magistrate – only a petty official who has temporarily taken over this post, by the way – isn’t even tired – he’s an early morning sort of gentleman. Despite the early hour, the dawn’s rays still barely tickling over the hills, he looks well put-together. Not a hair is out of place on his head, and his sharply kept mustache suggests a morning ritual of wax-infused grooming. The man is already making steady headway into a stack of tidy paperwork as you arrive. You’re in luck, however – he seems to be in a good mood, which may make him more amenable to your suggestion than normal.”

Valid. A bit wordy, and not the words I would use, but it establishes the NPC well enough.

9. (response to 3) “Sure you can have blue hair! I hope you don’t mind if nobody else does though – I didn’t really originally picture that sort of hair, and I’ve got so much else to juggle that I probably won’t add a whole lot of world responsiveness to blue hair. It’ll just be an aesthetic thing to help you better picture your character, not much beyond that.”

Hard disagree. Blue hair is such an easy thing to handwave - a wizard did it! No reason to drag the person inf ront of the table and make huge sweeping changes. Give them some options and let them pick, and use it to add a little flavor or maybe a hook.

10. (response to 4) “The point of interest should be more direct, short and to the point. I don’t want to mention other shrines, since they’ll come up when they come up, and players can make the connection about salamanders being normal if they want to. Since it’s for a game, the phrases don’t have to be grammatically correct or complete sentences – they just need to convey information. For a play-by-post game, I also want the keywords to stand out, so I will bold them:”

An ash dwarf shrine. 1 salamander stands guard outside. Simmering pool of fire shield (1 day duration) inside.

Good stuff here, agree.

11. (response to 5) “Who knows? Haha.”

Disagree. Skittish and indecisive players make for boring sessions. If they need a nudge, give them a nudge.

12. (response to 6) “I would look it up in the book, and if it’s a regular question, I would add a sticky-note to that page so I could find it faster, to show my players what the rules say. Knowing the rules and when to look them up is important, and I want to lead by example.”

Disagree. This is boring, unfun, and is putting minutiae above the enjoyment and creativity of the players.

Question 13

13. Imagine, briefly, that the responses in 7 through 12 all came from the same GM, within the same campaign. Are there patterns that emerge about how this GM runs? Would you want the GM to be more consistent and predictable about anything? 

Dollars to donuts this DM did a whole lot of 3.5 back in the day and never unlearned some bad habits (mostly of overreaching when players decide they want to do something even a little creative, and of letting what is pre-planned get in the way of things actually happening)

Does examining this hypothetical GM change how you thought about your own tendencies, and your own patterns? Would you want to learn anything from this hypothetical GM, or not? Why?

Nope. Not particularly, because their methods don't jive with the little bursts of spontaneity I like to use to keep things fresh and moving. Yhough I might want to look at their old campaign notes - that's their main strength. and if they're a 3.5 GM as I think they are they are likely to have a lot of them.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

100 Mothership Megacorp Lines of Business

 First there were patches, then trinkets, and now this nonsense.

What Does This Megacorp Do, Anyway?

  1. Trademark Squatting
  2. Litigation-by-Combat
  3. Pharmaceuticals
  4. Medical Gene-Engineering
  5. Cosmetic Surgery
  6. Shipbuilding
  7. Terraforming
  8. Habitat Construction (Orbital)
  9. Habitat Construction (Surface)
  10. Habitat Construction (Aerostat)
  11. Habitat Construction (Asteroid)
  12. Ice Hauling
  13. Solar Farms
  14. Uplift and Lazurogenetics
  15. Custom-Made Lifeforms
  16. Androids (Creepy and disproportionate)
  17. Androids (Clunky, but charming)
  18. Androids (Cute mascots)
  19. Androids (The budget option)
  20. Androids (Disconcertingly attractive)
  21. Cybernetics
  22. Memetic Conditioning Programs
  23. Slickware (Worlds)
  24. Slickware (Games)
  25. Slickware (Pornography)
  26. Mining (He3)
  27. Mining (Volatiles)
  28. Mining (Asteroids)
  29. Tourism
  30. Laser Launch Systems
  31. Interstellar Communications
  32. Deep-Space Expeditions
  33. Printers and Fabricators
  34. Consumer Computers
  35. Artificial Intelligence (Weak)
  36. Artificial Intelligence (Strong)
  37. Mind Uploading
  38. Private Military Company (Full of themselves)
  39. Private Military Company (Terrible leadership)
  40. Private Military Company (War crime central)
  41. Private Security (An actual joke)
  42. Private Security (Military leftovers)
  43. Reproductive Services
  44. Cloning Services
  45. Reproductions of Classical Art
  46. Algorithmically-Generated Art
  47. Education (Early childhood)
  48. Education (Academic)
  49. Corpse Processing
  50. Life Support Systems
  51. Biosphere Maintenance
  52. Digital Archaeology
  53. Translation Services
  54. Food Production (Hydroponics)
  55. Food Production (Insects)
  56. Food Production (Protein cultures)
  57. Food Production (Luxury meat products)
  58. Clothing Designs (High fashion)
  59. Clothing Designs (Everyday)
  60. Outsourcing (Tech support)
  61. Outsourcing (Human resources)
  62. Antimatter Production
  63. Union-Busting
  64. Entertainment (Music)
  65. Entertainment (Film)
  66. Entertainment (Interactives)
  67. Entertainment (Games)
  68. Entertainment (Live sports)
  69. Historical Re-enactments
  70. Sex Work
  71. Market Manipulation
  72. SEO Services
  73. Botnet Services
  74. Contract Assassinations
  75. Designer Religions
  76. Generalized Consulting Services
  77. Cryptocurrency
  78. Recycling and Salvage
  79. Weapons (Civilian)
  80. Weapons (Military)
  81. Weapons (Experimental)
  82. Data Archival Services
  83. Transport (Passengers)
  84. Transport (Bulk goods)
  85. Deniable Assets
  86. Social Media Astroturfing
  87. Construction and Maintenance
  88. Storefront and Shipping
  89. Venture Investments
  90. Anomaly Containment
  91. Warp Core Storage and Transport
  92. Void Whaling
  93. Pest Extermination
  94. Indoctrination-Deprogramming
  95. Memory Retrieval
  96. Roll Again (Incompetent trend chasing)
  97. Roll Again (Knockoffs)
  98. Roll Again (Violent collapse)
  99. Roll Twice and Combine
  100. [REDACTED]

Monday, February 1, 2021

Solo Island Survival Game (Abandoned Project)

I wrote the framework for this post pre-pandemic, on the back of a napkin during jury-selection downtime. It has moldered here since then, with a short burst of additions made later that still do not come close to finishing the thing. As it's unlikely that it will ever get completed, here's the big fragmentary mess - if you feel like you can get something out of it / want to do something with it, by all means - steal this.

(This takes immense inspiration from [i.e. ripped directly from] an old cyoa image format that started on /tg/ and has been circulating ever since, plus some pointers from the board game Unearthed)

Additional commentary from me written now will be in italics.

Premise

You are stranded on an island filled with unknown dangers, haunted by a deadly nemesis. You need to find a way to survive and eventually escape (the simplest way is by defeating your nemesis.)

This is the same structure as the original cyoa(s), though given the genre those were entirely freeform in how one went about solving the problem. More like daydream simulators than full games, which is quite nice if one is not in the mood for heavy lifting.

Picking Boons

You will have your choice of a shelter, a companion, a special item, a covenant with an island faction, and lastly your nemesis. Any shelter, companion, special item, or covenant not taken will still exist in the world, but will now present a potential danger.

Also taken directly from the original layout.

Procedure of Play

Your time on the island is split up into turns of indefinite length - they are precisely as long as needed to fulfill one Action. Every turn costs 1 Food and 1 Water. All actions involve rolling 2d6 and adding any bonus or malus you might have from an item, companion, or other effect.

It's PbtA, see - this was when I was still figuring out how that system worked, and using it to simulate the limited interactions of a video game was the easiest way to grok it at the time.

Actions

  • Explore - Use this action to map out a previously-unknown node on the map.
    • 10+ Make a path and a full survey of resources
    • 7-9 Make a path, (if path already exists, make a survey), roll on the mishaps table.
    • 6-: Roll on the mishaps table. 
  • Gather Resources - Use this action to gather resources from a surveyed node on the map.
    • I never figured out precisely how I wanted to deal with resources. I think, around the time I gave up on it,  
  • Build - Use this action to spend time on a work project to improve your shelter, or to build a camp on a surveyed node.
    • 10+: The build project proceeds 1 step.
    • 7-9: The work project proceeds 1 step; roll a mishap.
    • 6-: No progress is made
  • Negotiate - Use this action when interacting with non-allied factions or individuals on the island.
    • 10+ : Success! Go up a tick on the faction's relationship tracker.
    • 7-9: You can choose to go up a tick on the relationship tracker, but this will come with a roll on the complication table.
    • 6- : The situation has devolved into hostilities.
  • Escape Hostilities - Use this action to escape from hostile factions or your nemesis.
    • 10+ : You manage to get away with no injuries.
    • 7-9: You get away, but you take a wound.
    • 6- : You cannot escape: You are now In Their Power
  • Combat Hostilities - Use this action to fight hostile factions or individuals.
    • 10+ : You are victorious. Gain the appropriate plunder.
    • 7-9: You survive. You may choose to gain plunder, but will take a wound.
    • 6- : You are overpowered. You are now In Their Power.
  • Engage with Companion - This action can be used in conjunction with another. Each companion has a number indicating how many turns must come between uses of this action. 
    • I never wrote out the results for this action, but it involved a relationship track like the Factions.
  • Engage with Nemesis - This action is used only when a Nemesis has come calling. Nemeses have individual turn timers and/or criteria dictating when they will arrive. 
    • 10+ :You successfully combat your Nemesis; gain the boon from the appropriate encounter tier. (Each Nemesis would have multiple encounters before it is defeated)
    • 7-9: You survive the encounter. You gain no boon and make no progress against them.
    • 6- : You are In Their Power

In Their Power is unique to each given party, and determines what they will do when you cannot resist. Some will kill you outright, others might just inflict status effects or block off node access, or so on.

Conditions

  • Starving
  • Dehydrated
  • Injured
  • Afraid
  • Hallucinating
  • Exhausted
  • Corrupted
  • Infected
  • Poisoned

Building the Island

The island is made out of Nodes connected by routes, as a pointcrawl. There are:

  • 5 Shelter nodes - 1 will be chosen as your home base, the others will be dangerous challenges
  • 5 Faction nodes - 1 will be friendly, the rest willbe wary and guarded at best.
  • 5 Special nodes - These might contain things that can help defeat a Nemesis, or other such special boons.
  • 15 Standard nodes - These will contain assorted resource nodes for harvesting. Most will have two different resources available; those that only offer one will provide double resources.

All nodes have resources available for gathering, in varying amounts, distributions, and levels of risk.

I never figured this out as much as I wanted.

Resources 

  • Food
  • Fresh Water
  • Wood
  • Stone
  • Special
  • Hide
  • Scrap
  • Eldritch

Nodes

  • Fruit Grove - Wood + Food
  • Forest - Wood x2
  • Game Trail - Food + hide
  • Wreckage - Scrap x2
  • Pond - Water + Food
  • Stream - Water x2
  • Hills -Wood + Stone
  • Cave - Stone + Eldritch
  • Fishing Spot - Food x2
  • Monolith - Eldritch x2

Building Projects

None of these ever got numbers, but I have notes for earthworks, a garden, a raincatcher, signal fire, tanning rack, some freaky magical totems, bivouac, and game traps. Projects generally fall into the category of an increased defense against the dangers of the island, or a means of gathering extra resources.

The Event Rolls

Each turn, rolls will be made to see what else is going on on the island. I believe I had intended this to mirror another solo game I am fond of, Journey, where you have a number that goes up every turn, and if you roll lower on a d10 / draw a lower pips card, and event happens. This would be paired with a d4, here, or so I believe the plan was.

  • Supernatural Event
  • Individual Encounter
  • Faction Encounter
  • Nemesis Encounter

End Note

This is, like a great many of my grand and sweeping project-visions, an artifact of foppery and whim. I am unlikely to find the drive to return to it and finish it, but that's okay. I got to go to a really good Mediterranean place for lunch that day.

Should anyone reading this feel some mighty need to pick it up and finish it, by all means - it was hardly original when I started it so I certainly don't mind. Let me know if you do, though.