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.