Saturday, July 26, 2014

Digging up the Future's Past

NOTE: I started this post more than a week ago and forgot about it so please forgive any thematic shift that may occur partway through. 

I'm writing this post as I wait for the Destiny beta to install on my PS4. At the rate it's going I could probably get 10,000 words down before I get to repeatedly experience the joy of having my ass handed to me by some 14 year old kid in a midwestern basement.

The install screen shows a robust gallery of concept art for the game, and I'm digging it. The world is somewhere between Gamma World and Numenera. There are still enough near-future bits to be recognizable, but there are also vast, alien constructs and arcologies in the mix. It's pretty cool.

I've run D&D in post-apocalyptic settings before. It's actually my preferred world building style, likely due to my love of Vance's Dying Earth (especially the first book) and Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. Usually the nods to the world's past are well hidden —easter eggs at best— but I think it would be pretty awesome to be more opaque about this stuff.

Numenera's world is so far flung that it becomes completely fantasy. Any nods to scifi are tenuous. The Sufficiently Advanced Technology isn't so much indistinguishable from magic as it is plain old magic. And that's fine, because I don't necessarily want to be describing a toaster to players as if it's some ancient artifact of the Old Ones. I think a world maybe a century on from what you see in the Fallout series is a good model as far as technology levels go.

EDIT: I just went out for a burrito and install screen is only at 20%. God damn it man.

After my previous post I started looking at other stuff on my shelf for things to screw up 5e with. I really like the Icons of 13th Age, though not necessarily their implementation as written. So I wondered what they might look like in a more thematic setting. I'm only doing 9 of them, since that maps to alignment and anyway 9 is more than enough for any single campaign to use. Taken as a whole I think they have the makings of a weird science fantasy campaign.

The Parliament of Paraquantum Logic (LG): At some point, humanity builds and launches a colony ship bound for Sirius.  However, a timespace anomaly causes the ship to return to Earth before it is even built in the first place, causing all sorts of warp havoc and creating the setting. The humans that now inhabit the ship have evolved well beyond their ancestors-turned-contemporaries. These are basically the Elves of the setting and the Parliament are their Jedi Council.
Opposed to: The Forces of Evil, generally speaking.

The Subatomic Congress (NG): A Mycanoid hive mind obsessed with magic of the highest order. Their spores turn people into secret sleeper agents/wizards.
Opposed to: S.C.O.T.T.

Solomon Dark (CG): More rumor than fact, and information is sketchy at best. Described as a freedom fighting Golem, a dangerous wizard, or a common terrorist. It depends on who you ask.
Opposed to: His evil creator, Doctor Collapsar. Doesn't seem to think too highly of the Warlock Syndicate either.

The Imperatrix (LN): Empress of the West, Bride of the Black Blade, clone.
Opposed to: S.C.O.T.T.

The Center for Disease Control (N): A group of vampires dedicated to studying and eradicating disease (which includes finding a cure for their own affliction). Possible group for Cleric PCs to get missions from. 
Opposed to: mostly just the Mindless Undead.

The Nova Academy (CN): This is more or less an adventurer's guild. The Pathfinder Society meets Miskatonic University.  A place to trade loot and information for Murderhobo PCs who don't want to commit to remembering who's who in the game world.
Opposed to: anyone who gets between them and their unquenchable lust for gold and experience.

Doctor Collapsar (LE): Slave lord of the Insectroids and Paraduke of the Spider Syndicate.
Opposed to: His rebellious creation Solomon Dark, The Imperatrix

S.C.O.T.T. (NE): A young psychic boy infected with a nanotech virus which allows total possession by an orbital AI. He is considered a messiah to a fringe android religious movement called the Iron Jihad. Akira with a congregation of IG-88s.
Opposed to: The Subatomic Congress

The Warlock Syndicate (CE): Semi-organized gangs of Witches, Demons, and Night Creeps who take orders from voices emanating from the black hole in the sky left by the Parliament's return.
Opposed to: The Parliament of Paraquantum Logic, all life on Earth.


That game took almost 7 hours to install, so I went to a show and forgot about this post. Now that I've had a few days to play it, Destiny is okay but FPS games just don't interest me like they used to. Not even really well designed ones, which it seems to be.

I've also had the above factions in mind for the past week and they haven't mutated terribly beyond their original concepts, so I think I like them enough to get started on building the rest of the setting. When I say "Setting", I'm talking about random tables and hex descriptions, not Silmarillion levels of backstory. I really like the idea of a classic adventuring party wandering through the melted ruins of the West Coast, fighting alien dragons and automated security golems.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

In Which Unconnected Brain Burps Give Birth To Synaptic Siblings, Sorta

This blog has never been particularly prolific, and sometimes I think about torching the entire operation. A number of factors contribute to this, laziness being a principle, but bad health and career stress also play a role.

I’ve recently come out of the second serious and prolonged threat to my life, alive if not unscathed, and slipping the Hangman is beginning to feel like a recurrent theme in my life. It feels a bit like being a low-level player character to be honest.

 One leap of logic later, I’ve come to realize that this is the source of my growing reservations about 5e. I’m happy to see WotC return to a style of game that feels familiar to me, but I think much of my enthusiasm is of the OMG NEW STUFF TO GET variety. This is typical behavior for many fandoms. The need to waste money is probably a deeper psychological issue than I’m ready to confront when it comes to Elfgames though.

There’s a whole lot of hit points in this game. Sometimes I think it’s a good thing. I’m okay with certain videogame-like breaks in verisimilitude because it is, after all, a game. But on the other hand, I spent 18 days in the hospital last month recovering from a particularly gnarly infection —exactly the kind of thing someone living in a shit-smeared, battle-infested medieval milieu might be forced to deal with— and I can tell you firsthand that the “meaningful possibility of death” is good for the protagonist. I feel as if I’ve accomplished something by merely surviving.

There’s at least two ways to look at the protagonists in a D&D game. One is the ragtag group of adventurers wielding rusty swords and secondhand armor, exploring a brutal and mysterious world with two spells and a dozen hit points between them. Let’s call that the George RR Martin version.

The other way to think of PCs is the Robert E Howard version, competent adventurers ready to tread the thrones of Earth beneath tastefully sandaled feet, wading balls deep into every horde of subhuman bastards foolish enough to challenge their magic blades.

There are things I like about both approaches. One of the things I enjoy about my experience with the DCCRPG is that it tends to encourage crazy cinematic exploits while still managing to be quite deadly. I want the threat to be real, the lofty potential of 2nd level to be earned, but I also want to see PCs kicking ass like Sho Kosugi. And players (at least mine) get off on that kind of blockbuster action hero madness.

Honestly, there are better systems to accommodate this balance than D&D has ever done, but those all share the sin of “not being D&D”. This is problematic for my aesthetic obsessions, even though I know it shouldn’t be.

My group is committed to giving 5e an honest chance, but I’m already thinking about fucking around with the rules. I have enough experience running these games to know it’s usually a good idea to play the damn thing as written before you fuck it up, but damned if I don’t want to just swipe a handful of things from it and bolt them onto LotFP.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Moral Panic

I have long understood that RPGnet is an intellectual wasteland ruled by moderator gang mentality, so it's hardly worth posting about. Still, it was one of the first gaming communities I joined online, so there's some weird nostalgic part of me that wishes it wasn't such a festering shithole. That said, I spent 18 days in the hospital last month, and I think they removed the organ that gives a fuck.

If you have consciousness, you have the right to not buy a product for any reason, regardless of if that reason is part of a grand ideology or just petty bandwagon outrage. But nobody has the right to willfully spread disinformation about a person online. That is currently happening in several threads about Zak and Pundit right now. The moderators have engaged in it as well, in a passive aggressive "take a shot at someone, then tell everyone doing the same thing to calm down" way that has come to typify mod behavior in that community. That is fucking lame, lame shit.

Another thing that irks me about this is that I will FUCKING GUARANTEE you that many of these boycotters will about face as soon as they see something they like in the game and want to play it. This is less of a problem, simply because I believe the amount of people that make a stink about games online is a microscopic fraction of D&D players in general. I live in a city with more potential players than I will ever be able to handle, and I have never heard a single one of them mention RPGnet (or any other gaming site, for that matter).

There's a new D&D and it seems to have been heavily influenced by the OSR. I'm really excited about that. Don't like it? That's okay! Play what you like. There are so many options.

There's a LGBT statement in the book that is clearly made in good faith, even though it might be a bit heavy handed. Don't like it? Well, they're trying at least. Progress is good, even when it's slow*.

There's a LGBT statement in the book. Don't like it? Fuck you. Your bigoted opinions have fewer allies every year. Eventually you'll be dead and your gay grandkids will live in open happiness.

The cover thanks consultants who you find odious for whatever reason. Don't like it? Okay, but if you're going to talk shit about those people and accuse them of something, make sure you have accurate, first hand knowledge and produceable evidence. That's just how it works. The telephone game doesn't cut it. People have accused Zak of things that are clearly untrue (transphobia), things that are more complex than the accusation makes them (THE LIST), and things that are true only because the accuser's opinion makes it seem true in their mind (cyberstalking). My observations of the Pundit are limited, but I did spend a month filming in Uruguay once and I liked it a lot so I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Sometimes, it seems patronizing to tell someone online that they need to get outside more, or that they need to get laid, or some other flippancy primarily used to get out of an argument. But this is one of those cases where people really do need to take a step back, man. There are wars happening in the world right now. 

And it's just a fucking game. It's a game where people pretend to be fucking ELVES for christ's sake. It's a fun, dumb, wonderful pursuit that I thankfully do not have to share with bigots and liars. 

I'm really happy with the way 5th edition turned out. I'ma play the shit out of it. I almost wish Geoffrey McKinney had a consultant's credit too, because I suspect the circle jerk of outrage may have actually caused some of the haters to spontaneously combust.

This is an unfocused rant and I'll shut up before it gets too far away from me. 

*Oh, and this sentence was written by a straight white middle class male who's LGBT experience is limited to several friendships and one particular youthful dalliance at the dawn of puberty. I realize that I may come off as ignorant or misinformed here. If so, I will try to do better next time.

Monday, May 26, 2014

RPGnet will literally bitch about anything.

Mike Mearls' announcement that Basic Dungeons & Dragons will be available as a free PDF gets snark from the same people who will be clinging to it as a gospel when a 6th edition comes around. The turds populating that purple punch bowl can't just be like "free doesn't cost anything and therefore can't hurt me so I guess that's cool" without adding some "waaaaa welcome to the future of gaming TEN YEARS AGO" back sass on their way out the door. 

Haters need to shut up and make things. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Local Moron Puts On Airs, Goes To Symphony.

General observations about seeing John Williams conduct the Oregon Symphony tonight:

  • It is impossible to avoid mentally superimposing The Crawl above an orchestra playing the Star Wars theme.
  • John Williams anecdotally refers to Yoda as “The elder wizard character from the second film”.
  • The theme from Close Encounters is badass.
  • The moment when the Eliot’s bicycles takes flight in E.T. is so emotionally tied to the score that hearing it live sans picture actually had the same effect as when I saw that scene in the theater at age 7.
  • Don’t worry about not seeing Indiana Jones listed in the program. There will be an encore.
  • John Williams is not the sort of Maestro who is afraid to follow the Indiana Jones encore with the theme from the NBC Nightly News.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Save vs. Chris Perkins' Wig

The Wig of Perkins is a new magic item compatible with the World's Most Popular Role Playing Game. It confers the following abilities:

+15 skill bonus to Exposition

+5 to resist any player's attempt to control their own character

Once per day, the Wig can create a distraction to convince a humanoid subject that the 5e rules will be ready by GenCon. No saving throw is allowed.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Dungeonpunk, and Why Rat Queens is the Most D&D Thing Around

Sometime in the mid-2000s, I started seeing the term “Dungeonpunk” being thrown around online to describe some of the art style of 3rd edition D&D. It seemed to be used to denote “adventurers dressed in spikey leather fetish bits carrying potion bandoleers” as often as it was meant to say “I miss the old art and therefore this is terrible

I’m not going to debate that it’s terrible (much of it was), and I’m not going to rant about the fact that adding the –punk suffix to a noun and calling it a thing is about as punk as the one thousand t-shirt variants of the Black Flag logo that have been bombarding us the last few years (seriously graphics peeps: the Black Flag bars are the new Keep Calm And ______ of tired-ass design jokes).

So, Dungeonpunk. Sounds pretty dumb. In what sort of world would such a thing exist? I suppose Dungeonpunk would become a thing when the Youth get sick of kicking around bumfuck Hommlet and start sneaking off to house parties in Nulb. Checking out dungeons is what amounts to Teenage Kicks in Fantasyland. Like drugs and skateboarding and listening to Slayer, you get into it because it pisses old people off. When all medieval parents want is for their kids to take over the family Serf-ing business, any imaginative teen is going to sneak out of the house, dressed in the leather or wizardly robes that symbolize their rebellion, and hit up the Caves of Chaos for a good time.

By that metric, my game world is pretty dungeonpunk. See, when my players talk about what being an adventurer means, I always say it lies somewhere between being a professional athlete and a rock star. It manages to look glamorous while serving almost no actual function in society. At early levels you’re on the road, sleeping on floors, scraping up whatever gold and experience you can get your hands on. At mid levels, you have fans (and haters) in every town. Kids hang posters with the name of your crew on the walls of their hovels. You might even find a groupie willing to carry your lantern. And at high levels it’s all armor endorsements and a signature line of potions and a fancy home with an entourage.

The Adventurer takes a chance because dying in battle in some ooze-infested shithole still beats the relative-but-guaranteed comfort of gongfarming. They’d rather run away from home and wander the countryside as desperate heroes, dressed like an asshole, killing monsters and busting slave rings, because stuff like that will get you laid.

The Image comic RatQueens captures this philosophy beautifully. The only epic quest the Rat Queens are on is to PARTY BALLZ, which occasionally means killing a troll or casting Evard's Black Tentacles or defending a city from attack. And all that leads to a story, in the same way that rolling on a carousing table can sometimes turn into a great, memorable gaming session. In spirit, humor, and dialogue, Rat Queens is the closest thing I’ve found to what playing D&D is actually like at the table.

I mean, sure: the DM spends all this time building his world and adding arbitrary apostrophes to all the names and making it all cool and dark and perfect, but the moment the PCs finally meet the arch-villain Y’oth the Devil Binder, the party wizard yells “I'ma cast Magic Missile at his nuts!” and it's dumb and funny and everyone cracks up. And that moment is really good, because it took all of you to make it happen, and that’s why you play.

(belated) Scene Report: International Table Top Day

Guardian Games, April 5th 2014

It’s been about two weeks since I sat in on +Jobe Bittman’s playtest for his next DCC RPG module. I had a great time bumbling my way around as the urchin wizard Fantastic Frank, and will be looking forward to running the final release of the module. I’m not going to say much about a work that isn’t published yet but I think it’s okay to say that what I saw of the adventure would’ve felt right at home to both Doctor Strange and Rhialto the Marvelous.

The setting of wizardly intrigue dripped with a far out Jack Vance-meets-Bronze Age Comics atmosphere. Jobe was a great DM, rolling with our bad ideas and adapting (seemingly without effort) when those ideas took us to places that may not be fully prepped yet. In truth, the fact that I wasn’t able to tell what was a fully fleshed out area and what was just a sketch in the DMs head is a good example of Jobe’s ability to stay on his toes.

I liked his previous DCC module quite a bit and look forward to more of his output. While I found some of the early DCC releases to be atmospheric but too linear, the most recent stuff seems to be more inspired, tapping into a primal aesthetic that’s somewhere between New Wave Fantasy and that stoned hesher carving band logos into his desk during detention. Also, Fantastic Frank survived and he and his “sexy-voiced Giant Cricket familiar” are now NPCs in my home campaign.

Also, looks like Jobe announced via G+ that he'd be finishing the writing for the posthumous release of Dave Brockie's Towers Two for Lamentations. Congratulations dude. You seem like the right man for the job. 

Look for The 998th Concord of Wizards later this year, and catch Jobe on Spellburn, the only RPG podcast that uses fucking Glitter Wizard as a theme song. Probably.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Wanted: Digesto

Digesto, Carcosan Sorcerer
Armor Class 4, 6HD

Powers and Attacks:

Digesto can fire Cosmic Radiation (Spectral Color: Ulfire) from his bracers for 3D6 damage. The left bracer has 19 charges remaining, the right bracer has 6.

Bigmouth: Digesto’s chest face has infravison 60’ and the mouth has a 15’ prehensile tongue. The tongue does no damage but can attempt to grapple an enemy, and if successful will pull any human-size target toward the mouth which immediately bites for 1d6 damage. A Bitten target must make a save vs. Poison or pass out. On a critical hit, the victim is swallowed whole and Digesto immediately begins digesting them, absorbing 1d4 HP per round (adding them to his own HP total) until the victim is dead.

The round after the victim dies, Digesto barfs up an animated skeleton with 2 hit dice, which serves him until it is destroyed. 

Digesto knows the following rituals:

The Ninth Tracing of the Measureless Void
Chaining of the Formless Aspect
Transmutation of the Slime God
The Ineluctable Name

Digesto has recently escaped the planet Carcosa. His current whereabouts are unknown.