Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Inevitable Post WinterCon 2015 Post

It feels like, these days, my gaming calendar has two calendars: con season and holiday season. Seriously, the holiday season is the only time were there's not one convention or another that I attend each month. This past weekend broke the con dearth of the holiday season with the coming of WinterCon. Now, D&D historians out there will recognize the name WinterCon. It's traditionally run by the Metro Detroit Gamers association and way back in the day (as in THE ACTUAL FUCKING DAY, the 70's) this con was some serious shit. I mean, Uncle Gary wrote 'The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth" for this thing in '76 (before it was renamed "Tsojcanth") and then Allen Hammack's "Ghost Tower of Inverness" was written for WinterCon VIII (1979) as the con's D&D tournament. So, some serious cred.

Sadly, the con has fallen on hard times.

I don't know who runs the Metro Detroit Gamers, but WinterCon is a little anemic, being only a single day. That having been said, I think the con has a lot of room to grow, particularly if it bothered to embrace its past, its serious old school cred, it could go places. I think, however, that this is one of those times where folks don't know how good they've got it because the old school is just too far off their Pathfinder-fogged radar.

Anyway, on to games

I got to the con later than many, but not all. I know +R.J. Thompson & +Andrew Moss were there super early -- well, super-early for me. I don't think I was awake when the con started at 8a. I have a hard time understanding events that start before noon. Or really, pretty much anything that starts before noon. I timed my arrival at Oakland University (where WinterCon is held) to be as close to noon as I could manage, banking on some dealer hall time before Andrew's ASSH session (which I thought was at 2p but ended up being at 1:30p). Last time I'd been at a MDG convention (MichiCon 2013), the dealer hall was a sore disappointment, but this con, there was a friendly face there in +John Reyst of d20pfsrd.com and its attendant store. I love seeing John at cons and not only because he's  cool guy (he is) but also because he doesn't just support Pathfinder, but also makes sure Swords & Wizardry stuff is on hand as well.

Andrew's ASSH session went great. He ran "Taken From Dunwich," which I'll admit that I own in pdf, but don't know well enough to have any spoilers up in my brain. I got to play an Esquimaux shaman -- in ASSH this is pretty much one of the coolest classes. They're sort of a multi-class cleric (or druid) and wizard (or necromancer) that gets some cool heal-y stuff and comes drenched in campaign flavor. Also at the table was Ryan Thompson's Ixian witch -- sexy male witch -- Layne Wood's Kimmerian ranger & Reece Al's Viking bard (skald?). We trudged into a mountain, executed a familiar-exploitative plan that we named "the weasel maneuver," and did a pretty great job of avoiding death. Also, we ended up with rayguns. Well, at least one raygun. Oh, and I got to cast Call Lightning on a giant of some sort. Call Lightning in ASSH is brutal if you can manage to cast it. Good session, great fun.

Next, we moved on to Ryan's Swords & Wizardry Complete game, which was also a playtest for a rules supplement he's working on that affords all sorts of extra options like fighting styles and spell retention and stuff like that. Ryan was running us through the old Judges Guild gem, Portals of Torsch, but we didn't end up getting very far, especially when Layne had to bow out early. This was the same crew of players from the previous session, plus a "very enthusiastic" young player of all of 13 years or so named Jonah. Being a young man of that age and that degree of inexperience and inexposure to gaming, Jonah played an elf wizard. There were a few times where the party had to suggest that he calm down and let the older players ask the questions, but it was good to see the young gent having a good time with old school gaming. Oh, and Portals of Torsch is super cool! I'm really going to need to look this thing up and have some fun with it.

After Ryan's game fizzled out due to Layne and Reece needing to beat a tactical retreat due to the hour, Ryan broke out the copy of Spices of the World that he'd purchased earlier in the day. You might not believe this, but it's a joint effort between Avalon Hill and McCormick spices. No, seriously. It even has small amounts of real spice encased in plastic for the game's pawns! Each of the "spice" cards not only explains the spice, but also includes a recipe that uses it, straight out of the 80's! Add in some blissfully out-of-date names for foreign cities (we had to look up a few like "Hssi Chou") and you've got a recipe (ba-dum-dum) for that sort of awkward cross-branding that marked the board game market of the 70's & 80's. So, we played it. And you know what? Spices of the World really isn't a bad game at all. I don't know if it's one that I'd choose to pull off my shelf and break out at a party, but it's not a game I'd turn up my nose at.

We called the party off when we got kicked out of the room because the con HAD TO CLOSE at 11pm. I'm really looking forward to Marmalade Dog coming up in a few weeks. And then GaryCon in March. So far, I've got nothing in April. Any suggestions?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Monster Monday: the Indigo Coagulate

I can't remember the last time I did a Monster Monday post, but I've been meaning to for quite some time. I think that Mondays are just one of those days that get buried beneath the weight of all the other shit I have to do and I forget to post about monsters. Well, that and Drink Spin Run records on Monday night, so I often spend all my screw around time during the day on podcast-related shizz.

But you came here for a monster, right? Here we go:

Wow, this time art is actually by
the author... 

Indigo Coagulate

% In Lair None
Dungeon Enc Pod (1-6)
Wilderness Enc Pod (1-6)
Alignment Neutral
Movement 60' (20')
Armor Class 5
Hit Dice 5
Attacks 1
Damage 1d6 pseudopod slam + paralysis
Save F5
Morale N/A
Treasure Type None
XP 350

The indigo coagulate resembles nothing so much as a roughly man-sized (six foot) pillar of deep blue jelly. The coagulate is wide at the base, nearly three feet, and tapers -- first sharply, then gradually -- to a diameter of ten to twelve inches at its crown. Indigo coagulate survive by digesting organic tissue and have developed a paralytic touch that assists them in this matter. Any creature struck by the indigo coagulate must save vs. paralysis or lose the use of one limb at random (see table below). Through some senses unknown to man, the indigo coagulate can detect the presence of living things (and this cannot be surprised), but is slow to react to their presence always acting last in any combat round. In addition to its paralytic touch, once per round, the indigo coagulate may emit a cloud of blue-tinted gas (30' diameter) that has the same property as its touch: any within the cloud must save vs. paralysis or lose the use of a random limb (however, a character can only be affected by this cloud once per combat encounter; multiple exposures do not require multiple saving throws once one saving throw has been failed).

Roll 1d12 to determine which body part is effected:

  1. Head - knocked unconscious for 1d4 turns.
  2. Right Arm - arm paralyzed, cannot be used in combat. (Thus, lose an attack or shield-based bonus to AC). 
  3. Left Arm - arm paralyzed, cannot be used in combat. 
  4. Right Foot - Movement rate reduced by 1/3. (If both feet are paralyzed, movement is reduced to crawling speed, often 1/6 of normal rate.) 
  5. Left Foot - Movement rate reduced by 1/3. (If both feet are paralyzed, movement is reduced to crawling speed, often 1/6 of normal rate.) 
  6. Right Leg - Movement rate reduced by 1/3 and gain a 2-point penalty to AC. (If both legs are paralyzed, movement is impossible.) 
  7. Left Leg - Movement rate reduced by 1/3 and gain a 2-point penalty to AC. (If both legs are paralyzed, movement is impossible.) 
  8. Stomach - Muscles in the digestive system immediately relax, the victim immediately soils himself. 
  9. Chest - Difficulty breathing, take 1d4 points of Constitution damage. 
  10. Right Hand - Drop whatever is being held, unable to hold anything.
  11. Left Hand - Drop whatever is being held, unable to hold anything.
  12. Full Body - Totally screwed. 


Friday, January 16, 2015

Unplanned Griffin Mountain: Sea & Fire

Have you been wondering how the passage of seasons has treated our intrepid band of would-be hunters? You can find out more about the PCs involved in this campaign here.

Sea Season

The clan came off of the Sacred Time season having sacrificed all of their food to the Hearthmother in thanks for the ultimate sacrifice paid by her servant, the clan's previous Grandmother. In dire need of food, the clan sent its hunters abroad into the grasslands to hunt the sables, antelopes and other herd animals while the rest of the clan gathered what food they could find. The rite brothers would go with the hunters, some of whom have been weaving plots and plans of their own.

Since Sick Ape (played by +Gabriel Perez Gallardi) was the oldest of the boys -- this year is his last to complete the rites of the hunter and be accepted into their ranks; should he fail this year, he'd become a thrall of the clan, its property -- and Labras, the leader of the clan's Great Hunters tasked him with overseeing the other would-be hunters at the camp site. Should any of them fail at their duties, Sick Ape would share their punishment. Little Fox was already in trouble, as well, refusing to fletch arrows for the hunters since he prefers the spear; his punishment is to fletch one hundred arrows, five times what the other candidates have to fletch.

Little Bull (+Craig Brasco, who was running late) and Cute Bear (+Jason Hobbs, Sir Notappearinginthisepisode) had wandered off (it's uncertain as to whether Cute Bear ever came back) to gather fire wood and good rocks as Little Fox (+PJ Muszkiewicz) sat in camp fletching as slowly as he could while trying too look busy (he's apparently trying to land an office job if this whole Neolithic hunter-gatherer thing doesn't work out) and Sick Ape patrolled the camp, making sure it was clear of stuff the Great Hunters don't want to sleep on (scorpions, rocks, untamed rampaging forks, etc.) when he decided to play a prank on Little Fox (this was mostly Gabriel deciding to play around with the magic system, but seemed like the sort of thing a prankster named Sick Ape might try). Sick Ape hid behind a boulder and tried to use his Folk Magic spell Ventriloquism to mess with Little Fox. Instead, he attracted the attention of the young sabre cat who was stalking them.

Just as the sabre cat was about to pounce on Sick Ape, Little Bull came back to the camp and shot at it with an arrow. This became an opportunity for us to learn how RQ6 combat works. Now, I'm used to old CoC combat, and while that knowledge may have been applicable to earlier editions of RQ, it's not that relevant to RQ6. Here's what we learned:

  1. You only get a defense against an attack if you spend one of your Action Points to get it. Thus, you only get to parry the tiger's attack if you spend one of your Action Points to do it. We screwed this up royally and allowed folks a defense roll every time, even if they didn't pay for it. That was a mistake and slowed combat waaaaay down.
  2. Combat is less about doing damage and more about imposing Special Effects on your foes. PJ learned this early on when Little Fox impaled the sabre cat on his spear then let go of the spear and switched to his axe. The impale made attacking (and defense!) harder for the cat but didn't do a ton of damage, allowing the rite brothers to steadily chip away at its defenses, chop off legs and so on. Ultimately, it was a well-placed Stun Location that took out the beast.
  3. Use your damn Luck points. 
  4. Take the opportunity to cast magic when you can. The worst thing that could happen is that you're out some POW and an Action Point. ABC: always be casting
After they chopped the cat to pieces, Sick Ape realized that they had somehow managed to not take any wounds. How very odd. In order to make their victory seem more heroic, Sick Ape took one of the cat's severed legs and raked its claws across this rite brothers' bodies, then tended to the wounds. The real problems started when he tried to minster to himself using the same tactic: the wound became infected and the PCs' attempts to heal the wound attracted a sickness spirit, which now haunts Sick Ape, looking for the right opportunity to strike and try to possess him. The rite brothers were lauded by the returning Great Hunters, however, and allowed to keep a souvenir of their kill. 

Fire Season

Time passed for the clan and Fire season dawned upon them. The clan had had good luck hunting during the Sea season, but still had not refilled its stores. After much debate, the clan decided that, during the Great Hunt of the Earth season, they would hunt in Dangerground, the wild area that separates Balazar from the Elder Wilds. The clan knew there to be many great herd in Dangerground, but also many dangers such as predators (like sabre cats), ogres, broos and even trolls. Emboldened by the rite brothers' victory over the sabre cat ("Even our young can kill such a beast!"), the clan prepares to set out for Dangerground. 

Further, the clan decided to break its ties with the Triloi tribe, favoring the Dykene tribe instead. Since the Dykene is a smaller tribe than the Triloi, the rationale behind the clan's decision is that, if they are successful in Dangerground, they'll distinguish themselves in a much smaller pool, bringing greater relative glory unto themselves. For the clan, the real hope is bronze; if they can prove to be the greatest Great Hunters of the Dykene, taking the greatest risks, then perhaps King Skilfil Heart-Piercer will reward them with the tools that will allow greater success in the future.

Amidst all this turmoil, the rite brothers faced their Trial of the First Hunt, where they were to act out the myth of the First Hunt (see previous post), where the Found Child slew Father Eubuck and befriended Brother Dog. At first, it seemed like Little Bull -- strong and hale despite youth and stature -- was a shoe-in to succeed. He and Little Fox performed well, and helped their rite brother Sick Ape accomplish the tasks that he had trouble with. Unfortunately, when the test of stealth came, Sick Ape count not help his brothers in return (or rather, forgot to; he had intended on casting Coordination on them before they took their test), and they failed their challenge. Thus, they must wait another year to take their test all over again; thankfully, both are young enough that they have a few more opportunities before they "age out" and become thralls (more about this later). 
After Sick Ape's success, the clan celebrated, for it was time for Brother Dog's annual ceremony where man and dog come together and all speak the same language, if only for a day. During the ceremony, Sick Ape met his hunting dog companion. I'm pretty sure he also picked up some ranks in Dog Speech as well. 

Although two of the rite brothers are bummed to have failed, they'll get more chances in the near future, because I plan to let them re-take the test after the Earth season (we'll jump forward a year after Earth, so that the next session will be the Dark season of the next year). The idea is to give just enough of an idea of what the clan's year is like while still allowing the young'us to progress. 

Here are some thoughts on how things developed in the Fire season:
  1. Every season, I'm allowing the players the opportunity to allocate 20 skill points to their professional skills. In addition, each session/season has "unlocked" additional skills (such as Dog Speech and Peaceful Cut) that the PCs are allowed to develop once they meet certain story events. I like how this flows.
  2. With the Fire season, I gave the players each one experience roll (this is how RQ6 handles character development and it's neat!) to be used on one of the skills they used that session. I think this is one detail that I'm going to keep and expand on a little bit in order to reward player attendance during this phase of play.
    1. Every session, the players get 1 experience roll. They can keep it or use it normally.
    2. If a player skips a session, he'll still get the 20 skill ranks, but not the experience roll, thus giving some weight to attendance. Further, the skipping player won't be able to spend any of those skill ranks on skills unlocked in that particular session. 
  3. I think I'll go back and retroactively award an experience roll to the guys for the Sea season as well. A lot of cool stuff happened then and they deserve to be rewarded for it. 
  4. Looking closer at "how to RQ," I'm starting to get why cult membership is such a big deal: it's a gateway to an awful lot of personal power. Or, at least, it is in RQ2. I'm still trying to reconcile how things work in RQ2 and RQ6 with varied results. I need to spend more time on this. 
  5. One of the big differences that I'm seeing is the difference between how RQ2 handles increasing Power each "adventure" (if you've cast a spell successfully, you get to roll to see if your Power goes up; the lower your POW, the better your chance of an increase). Since so many in game variables are tied to POW (magic points, rank attainable in a cult, etc.) -- at least in RQ2 -- I can now sort out better where I need to focus my readings of RQ6.
    1. In fact, this is precisely how I tend to read rpg texts: informed information search. I locate the weaknesses in my knowledge then try to fill them in. 
  6. I will be using the optional Permanent Characteristic Improvement rule from page 64 of RuneQuest Essentials; that is, it costs 1+(PC's current score)-(racial minimum) number of experience rolls to improve a Characteristic one point. This should work out well for the party's low-POW shaman (Little Fox). 
Next week, the party will get to the Earth season, where the clan will hunt in Dangerground for the first time. Trolls? Ogres? Broo? All of these wait for the PCs in Dangerground... 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Imaginary Legends: The First Hunt

In my impromptu RQ6 Griffin Mountain campaign, as I believe is the case in all RQ games, myth is central to the story because it is central to the characters who create it. Thus, as the campaign progresses, the PCs have been learning more and more of the myths that drive their people and see these myths reflected in the things they do. 

This coming Fire season, the would-be hunters of the tribe currently earning their adulthood, must undergo the Trial of the First Hunt. For the folks who have read Griffin Mountain and have maybe run it a few times, this is the basic "Obstacle Course" scenario suggested in the Growing Up chapter (so you won't see the actual Trial here), but given context important to their clan, that context being the clan's myth of "the First Hunt."

"The Found Child had become hungry, for it was the Fire season, and the Hearthmother’s plants were still growing, so he dared not eat them. The voice of his stomach uttered bleak mumblings to him, and so the Found Child set off to fill it so it could no longer worry him with its dark words. He leapt from her high hall and fell upon the rocks below, but he was spry and found his feet before the rocks broke him. The Found Child saw the fish in the River, and so dove in to catch one to eat. The River was strong, though, and she tried to drag him down to drown with the fishes. The Found Child watched the fishes and learned how to swim and swam to the other side of the River before she could drown him. On the far bank, he found himself in a small valley, lined with trees and crowded with bushes. There, the Found Child looked on the trees for fruit and on the bushes for berries, but he found none. Instead, he found two things. The first was a great tooth from Uncle Tiger; Found Child knew the tooth for what it was and named it Fang. He took a sharp stone and carved the rune Death upon it, that this may be his Fang as it had been Uncle Tiger’s before him. The second thing he found amongst the bushes and brush was a footprint. It belonged to Father Eubuck, and the Found Child followed it out of the valley to the top of the Hill.

"The Found Child climbed up Father Eubuck’s trail up the Hill surely, quietly and when he broke the brush, he saw the tawny, golden hide and great horns of Father Eubuck as he rested on the Hill’s crest. The Found Child’s stomach grumbled angrily at him, such as he feared that Father Eubuck might hear him. ‘Surely,’ said the Found Child to his groaning stomach, ‘we shall dine of Father Eubuck’s flesh and quiet you.’ But then the Found Child saw that the Dog Brother was patrolling the Hill, and he stopped in his tracks. So great was the Dog Brother’s hatred of intruders, that he would bark his warning and would likely scare off Father Eubuck. The Found Child summoned all his quiet and stillness and scolded his stomach, telling it ‘If you give me up, I shall not fill you for a year and a day!’ And so man and body filled up with the sounds of nothing, the sights of no one and even stomach cooperated, duly castigated. Found Child watched the Dog Brother sniff his scent on the air, but Dog Brother could not see him, for the Found Child knew stillness. Nor could he hear him, for the Found Child knew quiet. Drawing close to Father Eubuck, the Found Child drew his Fang and killed the Father, asking him to forgive the Found Child for what he must do to silence his stomach.

“Much to the Found Child’s surprise, Father Eubuck did not fight him, but let Fang strike true. As he died, Father Eubuck struck the ground before him thrice, writing the rune Harmony upon the ground. The Found Child did not like to kill so wise a creature, and so he made his cuts peaceful and wept quiet tears over the Father’s body, asking the Father to forgive him and wishing him a speedy passage unto Death’s meadows. Where his tears fell upon the ground, they welled up and made a pool. The pool became a stream, and that stream ran down the Hill to meet up with the River and be carried off to the Sea. In the sound of the stream, the Found Child could hear a voice and with a start he realized it was Father Eubuck’s voice.

“Father Eubuck taught the Found Child the wisdom of the Harmony rune: that we should not take more than we need and that we should use what we take; that Death may be forgiven if Death is wrought to preserve Life. Found Child called out to Dog Brother, and both ate of Father Eubuck’s body, lest any go to waste. Found Child’s stomach was quieted, and so grateful was he for he Father’s wisdom and sacrifice that he swore to Dog Brother that never again shall he hunt a eubuck. ‘We shall see,’ said Dog Brother, ‘I will hunt with you from now on to help you keep your promises. Now, leave nothing to waste, as Father Eubuck has taught you.’

“The Found Child wore the Father’s skin as a cloak, for night had fallen, and with it, cold had come. He fashioned a bow from the Father’s horns, as you will do from wood, and carved both Death and Harmony onto this new weapon. Thus armed, he cast Fang down the Hill and it fell into the River, for some other hungry hunter to find, and he would not see Fang again for many years. Dog Brother would ever hunt alongside the Found Child, and never would they hunt the eubuck, for they held the animal now to be sacred.”
I felt a little strange writing this myth. The whole Death & Harmony rune combo of the Found Child cult felt a little Lion King to me and I was sort of afraid of Elton John breaking in with ... I can't even bring myself to mention the song. You know the one. The one with the title that's a cliche. Yeah, that one.

One of the big things that I'm trying to do in my myths is explain how certain deities become involved with particular runes, to provide those details with some context. The PCs in this campaign (well, the ones who show up, Hobbs!) have learned about these runes in-character so far and have even learned about the Peaceful Cut (I'm treating Peaceful Cut like a skill rather than a spell, just like the game did in RQ2).

The next myths will likely center on Votanki, if only so that the players have a sense of the myth cycle advancing.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Tempus Fugitive Manifesto

The following screed appears throughout history in all sorts of places. While commonly found in text on electronic devices past, present and future, it has also been found in physical text. Written in a medieval Italian manuscript, for instance, or spray-painted in Cyrillic letters on the face of the Kremlin and even carved in hieroglyphics in an Egyptian tomb. Every time, certain references change (particular cultural touchstones alter from context to context), and the following version is the one most commonly associated with the time/space code of readers contemporaneous to this data posting. The Kickassistan Ministry of Tourism has chosen to preserve this text in this current format for the sake of historical preservation. 

Let's talk about time.

One of the great things about it is that there's a nearly endless supply of it.

The nice thing about that supply is that, writ so large, strange little epicycles of the improbable have plenty of time to beat the odds and go ahead and occur, whether or not statistics is on their side.

Which it usually isn't.

So, let's take that again: time writ large equals possibility. Later on, that might be important. I haven't sorted that bit out yet.

Now that that point has been made, we'll step back a minute and take a look at something else: conspiracy theories. So, remember how folks like to leap to any sort of improbable explanation by linking unlinked events, trends and ideologies? How they'll prop together ever-more-improbable scaffoldings of spurious logic to make nefarious sense out of the senseless? I'm sure you've heard a few gems. 911 was an inside job. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The New World Order. The Kennedy assassination. The belief that the Armenian Genocide during World War I was a hoax. The Philadelphia Experiment. UFOs. Water flouridation. The Bilderburg Group, Illuminati and Freemasons. Holocaust denial. Islamicization. The Liberal media. The thing is that while none of those are or were true, they could have been, they're just remarkably unlikely. Conspicuously unlikely. As if they were deliberately crafted out of unlikely parts.

Let's jump back to that time stuff.

Given enough time, causality of events matters less and less, right? Due to the number of disparate causal influences on any remote point in time, you have less and less reason to believe that a point in time sufficiently distant from your own will resemble it in any way. This is why you watch a movie from the 50's about what they think the future will be like (say, in the then-distant year 2000) and all of the futurism junk looks ridiculous. The folks in the 50's were banking on the idea that fifty years was a sufficient amount of time for things to be significantly different (it wasn't) and that the ways in which it would be different were ones that they could predict (it wasn't). Think about how Back to the Future II depicts the year 2015; because the designers of that film couldn't shake their own preconceived notions of where the world was going in 1985, we see a future where the only influences that ever occurred were those present in the year 1985. A hideous day glo nightmare.

The folks at home who are better at juggling ideas can probably tell where all of this is going. Or rather, from my perspective, already has gone.

For everyone else, here's the gist: think about how some folks have described the infinity of space.
"Space," it says, "is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space. Listen..." (Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)
 All of that is doubly true for time because, really, they're just about the same thing. If you're still not sure of that, try this little thought experiment on for size. Pick a place that you can see from where you are. Now go there, and see how long it takes you. Go back to your starting point and travel the same amount of time in the same direction again. You'll find that you've gotten back to that same point you picked, thus proving it doesn't matter whether you're measuring the time or the space because they're quite similar things.

When we talk about the enormity of time, we also need to talk about the enormity of space and so when we talk about the probability of an event occurring what we're really discussing is whether its likely to occur now and here or whether it's likely to occur at all, ever anywhere in space and time. Because here's the thing: most things that aren't the former are definitely the latter. So definite that it might be considered to be certain. A surety. Pretty much there's no way this is not happening at some point in time at some point in space.

I know what you're thinking. "So far," you're thinking, "that's pretty cool. We've just got to find the right bits of space time where the right stuff is happening and we'll rock with that."

Yes. That's a perfectly reasonable place to start. But here's the problem: everybody else has already figured that out.

Especially the folks who don't like that at all.

Remember earlier when we were talking about all that conspiracy theory nonsense? The down side of all this mumbo-jumbo is that it means that somewhere and somewhen those things occurred. Or rather, something as likely nonsensically nefarious. The very nature of the raw, untapped possibility is that time guarantees their occurrence, assures us that somewhere in Universe of time and space, something really bad is always happening in covert awful ways that need to be stopped. The shit is always going down. What's even worse is that the very infinite nature of time and space ensure that conspiracies of conspiracies exist and that all of these little eddies in chronospatial ether are actually fucking coordinated by someone, somewhere, somewhen.

I really need to come up with some new words for these indeterminacies of space-time. I'm repeating myself too much.

But you get the gist.

Bad stuff is always happening and bad things/people are behind it, trying to shape the universe into a very bad place to be in. Now, you may be asking yourself "He's using some very certain terms to talk about things that he only a little while ago told us were merely probable, not certain." Well, yes, kind of, but you've also missed the point of a couple things. If you're going all empirical on me and demanding proof, the best I can do is a mathematical proof or a line of convoluted metalogic like I've spun above. You could also take my word for it, because I've seen as bad as it gets. I've seen where it's all going. And it's bad, folks, really bad.

The quote "The only constant is change" is usually misattributed to Parmenides, an ancient Greek thinker who would have been insulted that he was being linked to something that he didn't think existed: change. Rather, he thought that everything was part of one vast universal whole where time and space were just matters of perspective (which they are) and that things just were. While there's a certain truth to Parmenidean concepts (you should really check out the paradoxes that his student Xeno wrote about if you haven't already), and a certain untruth to them as well, because the big thing that Parmenides wasn't accounting for was the mind. The mind, where all change actually occurs, where every revolution is conceived of and, ultimately, fought and won, where every beautiful thing is given its beauty and everything of value is assessed its value. The only way to get the Parmenidean model to be perfect and unchanging and just so is to reduce the mind to series of Skinnerean inputs and outputs, to destroy creativity and silence the voices of dissent and hope and joy and sorrow that sing a chorus in the minds of all who can think. That's where it's going. That's the end game of the conspiracy of cospiracies, folks, if only because of its self-justifying and self-propagating nature. After all, if change can occur, then conspiracies can be prevented or defeated or reversed or subverted, can't they?

This is where you come in.

Because you can think. And probably would like to continue to do so.

Find a time machine. I don't care where, just find one. Just make sure it's one of those ones that moves you through space, too, because, and this shouldn't be a shock to any of you, planets fucking move. Even you'd like to spend all of your time on a single planet, you're going to need to account for sidereal movement, spiral movement of your solar system around the galactic center, galactic movement relative to objective space and the constant movement of all things away from the origin point of the universe! Got it? Space/time same/thing. Make sure your time machine goes in all the necessary directions and not just forward and back.

You might want to bring some supplies or people who could help, too. Smart friends who know more than you about any particular subject. Athletic friends who are good at running/jumping/climbing trees. Maybe someone who likes to talk to other people if that's not your sort of thing. Also bring some tools like flashlights and those cool little telescopic magnet things that are shaped like pens. Tweezers seem useful. A towel, perhaps, or is that too transparent?

Right, so pack all of that in your time machine and mess around with the controls. It helps if you know how to drive the thing. Or fly it. Or control it. Or whatever you do. Find a point in time and space where some sort of plot is underway and, wait for it, because here's the fun part, fuck the shit out of it. No, not literally. Just wreck it. Destroy that fiendish scheme. Or reverse it if it's already done its damage. Or subvert it if you can turn it to not-quite-so-awful (good is really just a relative concept that, once we start talking about, starts begging far too many questions, so we'll leave it alone).

No, I'm not asking you to become some sort of time police. That sounds like a terrible idea for an awful movie starring a pointless Belgian action star.

I'm not asking you to "set history right." Again, that sounds like the sort of quantum leap of logic that TV shows are made of.

Rather, I'm asking you to be the monkey wrench in the gears of a mindless machine, grinding to a halt (or at least putting it out of commission for maintenance, to continue the metaphor) the plot-of-plots against all thought throughout the Universe. I'm asking you to tear down what you can, to fiddle with the parts until they break off, to interrupt and interrupt and interrupt until all the bad guys go home frustrated. I'm asking you, if you want to keep thinking, to think pretty thoughts of anarchy and wreckingballs and drinking too much at parties and stepping on people's toes and making things unbearable for the sorts of people for whom things can be made unbearable when there's too much thought, too much art, too much beauty and ugliness and things that stir you to actually fucking feel.

Pick up your figurative brick and through it through their metaphorical window.

Be a Tempus Fugitive.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Time, Resources & Everything

Thankfully, it seems as if my G+ life is starting to normalize after the havoc that two months of holidays plays with them. Finally, the rolling hangouts for this game or the other are picking up in conversation and there's even -- *gasp* -- talk of games being run! Tonight, in fact, we're getting back to my "Unplanned Griffin Mountain" RQ6 game. One of today's fun conversations (I think I should count myself lucky that I get several fun conversations per day) was with +Donn Stroud+Jason Hobbs & +Bryan Meadows, but it was +Ray Case who dropped the serious bomb that blew my mind wide open. More about that later.

We were talking about resource management in old school games, specifically how some players get all butt-hurt when they have to track rations. This expanded into a discussion of +Brendan S's excellent Hazard System (v0.2) and how that handles stuff like this. In hindsight, it seems a shame we didn't talk about Dungeon World's handling of this stuff, too. So, all of this fits in together with some ideas I've been processing lately about the passage of time in games, resource management and the role these two can play in establishing the character of a particular game.

Keeping Time: Two Models of Time In Games

In the last month or so, I've seen a lot of discussion about time in games. Some ideas I liked, some I thought were nuts, but few were really revolutionary. Rather, it seems that they were more endemic of certain trends in time keeping in games. The first model of time keeping is the old one, the classic, the "strict time records" which need be kept, the Gygaxian Model. The second method, which plays a little more fast and loose with the concept of time, is the Bergsonian Model. Each model is really just another tool in the DM's kit, to be applied or ignored as appropriate for the game you're playing. 

Uncle Gary's Wheelhouse, the Gygaxian Model

Much derision has been hurled in the direction of Uncle Gary's classic admonition about time keeping from the 1e DMG. You know the one. The one about "STRICT TIME RECORDS MUST BE KEPT." He said so, in all caps, for a solid reason. In the classic mode of play, time and history are objective things that do not depend on a perceiver to be measured, tracked or even occur. It's yet another moving piece in an objective whole of stuff that is real in the game world, right alongside wandering monsters and movement rates and so on. That is, while we consciously know that the elements of the game are fictions created to facilitate game play, we treat them as if they were objectively real things because to do so allows a high amount of detail (and attention to it). We create these little fictitious constructs in our brains to allow us to project a degree of verisimilitude onto our games, which works great if that's what you're going for. Do you want your game to be consistent? To you want these pseudo-objective structures to matter within your game? If so, the Gygaxian Model is the way to go. In my own Iron Coast ACKS campaign, where projecting a sense of objective reality onto the game is beneficial and key to the game's success, the Gygaxian Model works great.

Time As the Flux of Duration, the Bergsonian Model

The French philosopher Henri Bergson (it's a damn shame that most folks never know about this guy) called time "the flux of Duration;" that is, that time is the change from things being one way, then another. In this view of time, the perceiver/actor is essentially important in that he/she/it is the person whose "Duration" is "fluxing." What this means in game time is that "turns," rather than representing a fixed amount of time (ye olde 10 minute turn in most of the classics), instead represents the opportunity for things to occur, for action to happen. Thus, the action "we search the room" becomes not a certain number of rounds or turns, but rather one single turn, the length of time it takes to do X. It seems to me that this sort of perspective is the one taken by games like Dungeon World and even by Brendan's Hazard System; the game here isn't in ticking off discrete units of time, but in following the PCs from action to reaction to action again. While readers may note that this is an awfully modern sort of interpretation of time in games, it's the sort of handwave-ry we've all been doing for years. Honestly, I don't think I've ever really counted down every turn of an overnight watch while the party camps, but rather sorted out what the "flux" would be and used those as my turns. Which is somewhere between the two models, but still. The Bergsonian Model, I feel, works best in a lighter game, where we're less concerned with verisimilitude and more with making the game flow; it's the model I largely use in my Hyperbarbaria and Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad campaigns.

Resource Management As Reward Management

Today's hangout conversation was mostly about keeping track of resources; specifically, rations. torches/lantern oil, things of that nature. There are a lot of gamers who look at resource management as an annoyance; and within this subset, there's a large degree of variation. For example, I have players who forget to add up XP, keep track of their GP and tick off rations or torches. Now, rations or torches I can understand a bit; the other two, to me, are madness. Now, not keeping track of XP & GP is just rank laziness on the part of a player and, indeed, means failing to keep track of a thing for which the player is rewarded for keeping track. Gain enough XP? Go up a level. Accumulate enough gold? You can buy that awesome something you wanted to buy. Maybe it's a pony, maybe it's a castle. This should be obvious, folks.
Packing rations prevents this

The conversation earlier today focused on stuff like rations and torches. Why don't people track these things as readily as they do GP & XP? Somewhere along the line, +Ray Case made a connection that I had missed completely: people keep track of GP/XP because they get something, so why not make sure they're getting something out ration/torch tracking, too? Ray's brilliant idea was to have players tick off rations in order to rest for the day; resting means recharging the old adventure batteries, regaining some hp and maybe the opportunity to re-up on spells. Could there be a more perfect thing to connect rations to? After all, rations should have these effects in game! Similarly, you could tie torch tracking to a similar refreshment or small gaming advantage. Maybe you're better prepared for a new combat when you prep a new torch and are at +1 to hit (actually, this could make a lot of sense for the torchbearer, especially if you use a Delta-style "+1 to attack when fight with two weapons" rule). Maybe it's a bonus to your next saving throw, whatever works for you. The point is, if you make resource management reward management, your players might be more interested in the actual managing.

Now, the less generous out there might suggest that not starving to death is enough of a reward to keep track of rations. Why do we have to be so negative about it? Similarly, the stingy DM could stay that the benefit for keeping track of light is not suddenly finding oneself irrevocably in the dark... in a dungeon... with all those monsters who can see in the dark. There is a place for this sort of logic, but I think it works best when tempered with some sort of reward or perhaps even countered by that reward. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

How To Ruin Adam's Day, or "Yes, I Know I've Been Ripped Off" + JoeskyTax [Updated]

[Author's Note: First off, we can call off the hounds. This issue is apparently being taken care of to my satisfaction. In the comments below, and on his blog here:  https://criticalgrumble.wordpress.com/2015/01/07/test/ , you can see the "culprit," Ryan B. apologizing and promising to revert back to his original course of action, posting links to material he likes. Second, I'm toning down some of the language of this post because, in the end, much of it was written in anger and Ryan B. has done a great job at assuaging that anger. I'm hombre enough to admit when I've gone off the deep end about a thing, so please indulge me in my self-correction (not "self-censorship," I'm keeping an offline copy of the original language) as an olive branch of my own. Edits below in brackets. Thanks.]

How do you wreck the awesome feeling of coming off of an excellent recording session of your podcast? How about by discovering that your blog has been ripped of MULTIPLE TIMES by some [guy] who's been going about ripping off OSR bloggers left and right?

Yeah, that'll fucking do it.


Look at that shit right there. Yep, this [guy] has copied FOUR posts from here at Kickassistan. He's stolen several others from OSRToday.com, Wampus Country, Elfmaids & Octopi and more. As soon as this was brought to my attention, I filed a DMCA claim against this [gentleman], so now I'm waiting for these posts -- if not the entire blog -- to be taken down. I'd also like a public apology and one for all my comrades-in-arms who've been ripped off my this.

And so, dear readers, I'd like to take a moment to directly address "Wylantern" or "Ryan B." or whatever this [gentleman] wants to call himself.

So, now I'm talking to you, Wynlantern/Ryan B. Lets leave aside for a moment the absolute douche baggery of stealing other people's posts. That's just clearly unethical. And while the jury is out on exactly what form of [guy] you are, there are two things I can say with absolute certainty.

First, you have the biggest balls of anyone I've ever come into contact with in the OSR community. Seriously, to perpetrate the wholesale theft of other people's content like you've done takes some huge gonads. In fact, they're so large, you might want to get them checked out by your preferred health care professional. Where do you go from here? Publishing other people's blog posts on RPGNow or something? I really hope I didn't just accidentally give you your next scheme...

Second, you have impeccable taste. You've stolen from me, +trey causey+Erik Jensen+Dyson Logos+Jason Paul McCartan+Mike Evans+Chris Tamm+Jack Shear  and oh so many more folks who I enjoy and look up to. I'm proud to be considered in such good company. So, thank you? I guess?

And now back to you, not-thiefy readers. Thank you, folks who've brought my attention to this issue. I am aware of the situation and have done everything I can aside from doxing this guy, stalking him and harassing him, and I'm not going to do that. Similarly, I'd expect you not to, as well. Sure, this Ryan B. is clearly [misguided in this matter], but I have faith that, in the end, he'll get his [if he keeps doing this and doesn't fix the problem]. Let's trust this one to the proper channels and clear heads.

Thanks a million for your continued support of me and the Dispatches from Kickassistan.

Joesky Tax: Coin Mail

In the far reaches of Hyperbarbaria, more ostentatious adventurers have always looked for ways to show off their wealth. Among the adventuring elves who've found their way to the territory from the Dreaming Dimension and darker places, a peculiar display of wealth (or even destitution) has arisen: coin mail. Made up of hundreds to thousands of copper, silver and/or gold coins woven onto a backing of stiff leather, coin mail provides a good degree of armor better than mere leather (AC 6) but without the nasty allergic reactions that the iron in chain mail invokes in elves. Suits of coin mail may be commissioned in copper (30 gp, 25 lbs), silver (60 gp, 20 lbs) or gold (120 gp, 30 lbs., +1 to reaction rolls).