Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Not Quite A Review: Monsters & Magic

When I headed out to GenCon, there were two games on my list to buy a physical copy of: Dungeon World and Sarah Newton's new Monsters & Magic RPG. I'm not sure why, but all the reviews of Monsters & Magic struck a chord with me and I figured I'd give the game a shot. Plus, Ms. Newton's excellent (but not off-putting) self-promotion over G+ kept the game at the forefront of my brain as I set out to Indy...

I've been waiting for the print version of Monsters & Magic since I finally learned what it was. It seems like most reviewers really liked the game until they realized that it wasn't an "old school game with some new school mechanics" but rather a "new school game with some old school flavor." That point seemed to be the departure point for a lot of reviewers, where the reviewers seemed to decide that the game wasn't for them due to the new school-iness. For me, reading these reviews, these departure points sounded intriguing and were what got me interested in the game. I ran to RPGNow, only to discover that it was pdf only (at that time), but +Sarah Newton had been promising a print version on G+ about GenCon time, so I set my purchase clock for Indy and waited.

So, now that I have M&M in my grubby little mitts, what do I think? Let's talk shop.

It's Old School...

...in both good and bad ways. The game easily covers all the important parts of old school gaming. Character creation, spells, dungeon exploration, wilderness exploration, even some resource management for the folks who tend to not be great at that stuff (*ahem* like me). It has crunchy bits where traditional gamers expect crunchy bits (and even adds some in places where you might not expect them, like Mental Hit Points), but doesn't go overboard in the 3.xe vein. The is decidedly old school, sometimes to a fault. Most of artists tapped for this project (like Bradley K. McDevitt) are fantastic, but there's one of them that, frankly, sucks (the one that does the races and a lot of incidental art; I'm pretty sure this is Gill Pearce, whose art is normally pretty killer but here is really bad). That was (mostly) the good old school stuff.

And now for the bad. This book is organized like an old school rpg. Which is fine for the folks who've never stopped reading them, but when introducing a new game system (which, despite what you may have heard, the Effect Engine really is; just a new game system that meshes really well with stuff you've probably already been using), the old school style can be daunting. Instead of introducing core gaming concepts early on and then allowing those concepts to inform an initial read of the text, +Sarah Newton goes the unfortunately old school route of teaching you how to build a character before discussing how any of the things you can do with that character work. I felt a bit lost trying to figure out what the list of Advances meant or why I should care about Effects and other junk like that as I was puzzling through the character classes, which is unfortunate, because Ms. Newton has really knocked this one out of the park. It feels like she built a super sonic rocket car but dressed it up like a family-of-five station wagon because that's what Uncle Gary drove.

The other sticking point with me is the post-genre-D&D high fantasy-ness baked in to the rule book, which makes it feel less like Howard, Moorcock and Lieber and more like Greenwood, Hickman and (shudder) Salvatore. I understand that the high fantasy crowd kind of owns the industry now, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. All in all, this would be really easy to write out of any campaign of M&M, though, so it's more just a sticking point than a real complaint. Suffice it to say that I'd rather that the flavor of the text (and its art) be more Sword & Sorcery and less Elves & Elminsters.

It's New School...

... and that's where the game shines! The game builds on some basic OGL logic (primarily the ability score bonuses and Difficult Class scales), but mixes in some good old central tendency (3d6 high rolls for resolution systems? Don't mind if I do!), some FATE-style descriptors and a simple narrative engine driven by all of the other stuff I've just mentioned. It took me awhile to sort out that Advances were simple descriptors, tags, that conferred a ye olde +1 to the associated resolution roll, which makes rules wrangling fairly unnecessary. The Effect Engine is a pretty neat little mechanic where you roll your 3d6 (plus or minus any modifiers), comparing the result to a target number (this can be a derived stat like AC or a static DC) and whatever the difference is is your total effect points. That could be damage (physical or mental), or you could trade it in for an Effect, which means you get to do something cool or keep your opponents from being as awesome as you want to be. All conflict resolution, even spell casting, uses this same mechanic, which gets really neat when you have the ability to trade in effect points for bumping up your spell with an Effect.

Was that confusing? Damn. This is why I wanted a more straightforward explanation of the rules: so I understood what the fuck was going on from moment one.

Here's the deal: If you want to do something and your chance of success is in question for one reason or another, roll 3d6 and add relevant stuff like your ability score modifier or a plus one for every Advance (remember, that just means "descriptor") that applies to your situation and compare that total to a resistance number (which may be something like an Armor Class or a static Difficulty Class). The difference (positive or negative) between your roll and the resistance is your total number of effect points that, if positive, you can spend on Effects or can be taken as damage by your target (your choice) or both (if there are enough points). If your effect point total is negative, chances are your DM is going to get to spend those points to make bad things happen for you. See? New school narrative control stuff which is the reason why some old schoolers are resisting this game. The thing that I think they're overlooking is how decidedly crunchy those new school rules are and how many fewer in-game rules they require, relying more on at-the-table rulings, just like +Matt Finch likes to promote ("rulings not rules").

Not that there aren't rules. There are. There need to be. The thing is that Ms. Newton has done a killer job at (a) keeping that number to a minimum and (b) taking them to their logical conclusion, which allows her to build some freaking great things out of a fairly minimalist base. The primary case in point is M&M's Constructs. This doesn't mean magical automata, but rather things that are usually larger in scale than a single person or character, like a ship's crew or a whole barony. One of the really cool things about the Effect Engine is how easily it can be "scaled up" to talk about these larger Constructs and not just be stuck to "character scale."

Final(ish) Word

This game system has teeth. This game system has a lot of promise. I'd love to run something in Monsters & Magic, if only to see how the rules play out. I sort of feel like +Sarah Newton might just have written the rules set for fantasy gaming that is precisely the one that I want, but it's far too early to tell. It's not completely ideal, particularly because of the high fantasy focus and the awkward old school organization, and those things are going to stand as the few black marks against M&M in my book, but man is this thing versatile. I'd love to see a second edition of this book that strongly reorganizes the text into a more modern information flow and presents more variety than default Elves & Elminsters.

In the end, Monsters & Magic feels like a crunchier, OSR-focused take on a Dungeon World-like game, which is pretty awesome. It's very suited to long-term campaign play (which is how I'd want to use it), but not so much for one shots or con scenarios; it just feels like the system mastery required for a limited engagement would be a little high (then again, I'm the kind of guy who thinks that DCC is a perfectly reasonable limited engagement game while other people run in fear of the charts).

I could see using M&M for one of my more serious games, particularly because, due to the Effect Engine, it would let me blend elements from the different game systems I really enjoy into one Whole General Sort of Mishmash very easily. DCC-style magic resulting in MASSIVE POWA or corruption of the soul? Yep, just tack positive or negative Effects onto it. Done. Mighty Deeds of Arms? Same thing. Now, I'd never replace DCC with M&M (that's just crazy talk), but M&M might have the ability for me to leak a little of the DCC-styled madness into something like my S&W game while still living somewhere between story game and Old School crunchfest.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

DCC Donnerstag: The Mummified Twin

It's the return of DCC Donnerstag! Long-time followers of the blog might remember when I made a point of writing something DCC-specific every Thursday. Well, today I'm trying to bring back the tradition by introducing you to a magic item that's been kicking around in my brain for a while now: the Mummified Twin!

"Yes, I hosted a mummified twin for a time, and for that time, the secrets of the universe loomed so close! His subtle whispers - I always thought of it as a 'he' - guided my dreams and massaged my ego. In fact, had I not severed my tie to him, I'm sure that today, I'd be a greater sorcerer than even Amor Ba'gish. It's a shame that the price of his aid was so high..." - Ahal ghul-Azan, failed necromancer.

"Mummified twin? No thank you, that's just disgusting." - Master Guang-Yuan Jo.

Among those many magical artifacts that are both prized and reviled, the mummified twin occupies a place of honor. During mankind's slavery at the hands of the Elder Races, the Elder Races experimented upon any human subjects they saw fit. Conjoined twins, it seemed, held a special interest for the Elder Races, who experimented with improving the mental capabilities of those twins, treating the host twin as little better than a vehicle for the transport of the conjoined twin. The experimentation went on after the death of either twin: should the conjoined twin have survived, it would be grafted onto a new host; if the host had survived, the conjoined twin would be mummified, pickled or otherwise preserved for transplantation onto another host. After transplantation into generation after generation of human host twins, the mummified conjoined twins had become something distinctly other, something unearthly and inhuman, their minds open to the stunning vistas of psychic mysteries and forbidden arcana that comprise the secret substrata of existence.

When found, the mummified twin resembles a mummified child, often swaddled in bundles of cloth, protected against the elements. Being little more than skin and bones (literally), this mummy is relatively light weight, as well as quite small, rarely longer than eighteen inches in overall length. Upon close examination, it becomes obvious that the "child mummy" is missing parts of its anatomy, often legs or arms, and frequently its body is little more than a trunk, ending in a sharp spinal protrusion. By shedding at least one hit point worth of blood onto the mummified twin, it sends a psychic message first to the source of the blood and then, if the call is unanswered, to everyone in the area, one at a time. This psychic call includes an explanation of the nature of the mummified twin (that it is a symbiont of sorts that can offer cosmic revelations at the cost of mere bodily sustenance); the twin immediately bonds with the first person who accepts the call and grabs the body, burrowing the spinal protrusion into his flesh and doing 1d7 points of damage in the process.

Once bonded with an individual, the mummified twin does not share its insights directly with the host as if it were sharing memories, but rather through constant murmurings and promises to reveal the true, hidden nature of the universe. The bonded twin draws off its host for sustenance, and the host now requires twice the normal amount of food and drink. The twin offers a small advantage in the casting of some spells, conferring a bonus to spell casting checks for the following spells equal to the level of the spell: Detect magic (1), ESP (2), Consult spirit (3), Demon summoning (3), Planar step (3) and Wizard sense (4). Furthermore, every month that a host is bonded to a twin he must make a DC 15 Will save or move one step closer to Chaotic; for every month that a Chaotic host is bonded to a twin, he must make a DC 15 Fortitude save or begin to exhibit signs of chaos corruption and mutation (that part we'll leave up to the Judge who has a ton of appropriate resources out there to draw from).

The most potent use of the mummified twin's power is as an oracle of sorts. Once per gaming session, the host may permanently burn a point of Luck (this will not regenerate for thieves and halflings, it's permanent) and as the twin any one question. Once asked, the Judge must roll a d20 in secret; if the result is less than 18, he must answer the question as truthfully as possible (normal wish-type or augur-type logic applies), but if the result is 18 or better, the Judge must deliberately mislead the player. Should the player act upon the false information, the twin immediately forces a saving throw the same as the one the character would make at the end of a month bonded to the twin (see above). By giving over a small amount of his cosmic essence to the twin (read, Luck), the host character is inviting not only the twin's oracular power, but also the corruption that a connection to cosmic forces can bring.

Once at least three points of Luck have been offered up to the twin for answers to questions, the twin's final power manifests. For the price of one point of permanent Luck burn (again, this may not be regenerated by thieves & halflings), the twin may cast any of the following spells at a Caster Level of 8: Detect magic, ESP, Consult spirit, Demon summoning, Planar step and Wizard sense. Casting a spell in this manner immediately causes the host to experience corruption or mutation from the chaotic forces that drive the universe. There's no getting around it.

While the mummified twin offers a great deal of utility and flexibility to adventurers, particularly to spell casters, the price that is exacted for its more robust powers can be devastating. The bond between host and twin is not merely one of sustenance and security; the twin also uses the host as a lightning rod for the chaotic and corrupting forces that its towering psychic presence attracts.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Inevitable Post-GenCon Post

When my wife and I had said our goodbyes to everyone when we left GenCon this Sunday and as we walked back to where our car was parked so we could begin the 5-hour drive home, my wife looked at me and said: "You know we're doing this again next year, right?"

Wife lottery, won.

Right, so, in case the rock you game under is... fuck it, it was GenCon last week. You know it, I know it. Every gamer knows it, and that's one of the things that's cool about GenCon. As if it needed any more.

That's Harley Stroh in the middle, wearing
a Kickassistan t-shirt with Jon Hershberger
on the left. Awesome guys!
Going into GenCon, I knew that I'd have the chance to meet and spend some time with some awesome folks, but I had no idea how many. Or how awesome. I'm still having a hard time believing that it was all real.

I just deleted a whole bunch of this post because it came off as slightly sycophantic, star-struck and not very constructive. In short, it was hard believing that I was living through real events and not some kind of awesome dream. I met everyone in attendance who I had wanted to (except for Peter Davison, but it can be hard to really "meet" the media guest guys) and ended up gaming with most of them. Every night, the focal event was hanging out at the Embassy Suites bar with the DCC crowd, gaming with +Doug Kovacs+Jobe Bittman+Harley Stroh+Wayne Snyder+Dieter Zimmerman+Doug Keester  and so many other cool people who showed up to game, share a great time together and celebrate the games that we all love.

Yes, I picked up a ton of great gaming material, the wife & I spent a small fortune (a relative one, but she has a corset now, so she's happy), and much of it I'll end up talking about here on Kickassistan, but it wasn't the unabashed consumerism that made the weekend great. When they say "the best four days in gaming," for me, they really mean "the best four days period." It's not just that I got to game all the fucking time, it's that I got to game all the fucking time with some of the coolest and most fun people I've ever met. How does DCC attract such an amazing crowd, I found myself wondering. Well, to go back to something I've recently quoted from Lenny Bruce, "No artform ever attracts an opposite" or, as +Harley Stroh paraphrased me quoting Bruce, "like attracts like." Awesome people make an awesome game which attracts awesome people to it so they can all meet up and be awesome together.

My wife, for whom gaming was not the main attraction, came for the people, some of whom she's been slowly meeting through G+ for the past few months. She came for the cosplay. She came for the experience of being lost in a sea of geeks. She came to rifle through the anime vendor's wares. She came for the art. She came to find herself the perfect mini for... well, for pretty much whatever she wants to play. She came, she saw and she conquered.

So yes, we're going to GenCon 2014. We've already made our reservations.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Happy Birthday, Kickassistan!

Somehow, I made it through a whole year of doing this blogging thing. As of today, Dispatches from Kickassistan is now one year old! Here at Kickassistan Central Command, I'm looking forward to another fantastic year. I've got a bunch of irons in the fire right now, lots of games and projects happening and on the horizon. Year Two will feature some of these new projects as well as plenty of the old stuff and plenty of new stuff that my brain is crazy far off from cooking up right now, so stay tuned! Without you, dear citizens of Kickassistan, these Dispatches mean nothing, and so Central Command (me and the wife) yell out the loudest "thank you!" we can muster; you've helped turn Dispatches from one guy and a laptop into, well, still a guy and a laptop, but a guy and a laptop who's now doing much cooler things and more of them. Thank you, Kickassistanis! 

While we're at it, here are some specific thank yous and shout outs I feel are necessary and well-deserved:

First off, colossal thanks and props go out to the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad crew, including +Edgar Johnson+Wayne Snyder+Bear Wojtek+Gabriel Perez Gallardi+James MacGeorge+phil spitzer and +Jason Hobbs, along with all the other folks who've followed the Order of the Purple Tentacle into certain doom high adventure. May your wizard bongs be eternally stocked with purple meat and sorcerer brains and may you never run out of ape men to slaughter should you require shelter (or entertainment). You guys are truly the new Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad. 

Second, I want to thank the fantastically supportive rpg blogging community, both of the OSR variety, the general variety, and those folks who, like me, hang out comfortably on the fringes of various trends in gaming. Thanks to your example and support, I've been inspired to take this Kickassistan thing as far as it'll go. I'm not about to start dropping names here (seriously, just look in the blogroll off to the right), but I stand on the shoulders of giants. Thanks guys, I get it now. 

Finally, and I'm really dipping into the sappiness for a moment here, folks, I need to thank +Kathryn Muszkiewicz, my lovely wife. She not only puts up with this Kickassistan nonsense, but she gets excited about it and works way too hard at helping me out with something that isn't even one of her favorite pastimes. 

Let's celebrate Kickassistan's birthday the same way we did a year ago. It's time for some motherfucking Korgoth!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

More MiOSR

So, it all starts with +R.J. Thompson and his amazing drive to get more OSR gaming attention here in the great state of Michigan. Here in Washtenaw County, for example, the only slice of the OSR that I can find that I'm not directly involved in is a small shelf at the Vault of Midnight in Ann Arbor where +Jason Hobbs and I found a few copies of the LotFP Grindhouse boxed set and a few other OSR goodies. So +R.J. Thompson (of Gamers & Grognards fame) came up with this awesome logo for the OSR here in Michigan.

Well, I looked at that and thought "Hmm... what if we?" And set about tweaking it. Here's what I've come up with.

Creative Commons License
Michigan OSR Logo #2 by Adam Muszkiewicz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work by Stuart Robertson athttp://strangemagic.robertsongames.com/2011/04/yeah-new-osr-logo.html.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at Strange Magic: http://strangemagic.robertsongames.com/2011/04/yeah-new-osr-logo.html

Monday, August 12, 2013

Monster Monday: Beastmen of the Iron Coast

In my Iron Coast campaign, so far the players have fought two breeds of beastmen. One is the average, goblin-sized vermen that have infested the Lichway so far while the other is goat-like beastmen of the Herd (I still don't have a good name for these guys, and am gladly taking suggestions). All stats are in ACKS fomat.


There are two sorts of vermen found in the Lichway, the smaller (kobold-like) scurrylings and the larger (goblin-like) gnawers. So far, the Iron Coast players have only faced gnawers, but at least one tribe of scurrylings dwells deep within the Lichway.

[EDIT] One in ten vermen is a carrier for one disease or another. The Judge should determine which (if any) vermen in a group is a carrier (I suggest merely counting off every tenth verman as a carrier). These carriers will eschew weapons and instead attack with their bite or (if applicable) claws in an attempt to infect their foes. Anyone stricken by a carrier must make a saving throw versus Poison/Death (the throw target number is modified by an amount equal to the verman's Morale modifer; thus, a scurryling carrier with a Morale modifier of -2 is saved against by a 1st-level fighter on a 12+ instead of a 14+) or take 1d3 points of Constitution damage; the victim must then make a saving throw against the disease on the following day or take another 1d3 points of Constitution damage and so on, each day making a saving throw until he has successfully saved against the disease. Any character who reaches a 0 Constitution due to this damage dies. Constitution lost in this manner returns at the rate of one point per day after a successful saving throw is made (or a Cure Disease spell or the like is cast). [/EDIT]


% in Lair: 35%
Dungeon Enc: 4d6 gang; 1 mob (lair)
Wilderness Enc: Mob (1d6 gangs); Warren (1d10 mobs)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 60' (20'; climb 60'/20')
Armor Class: 2
Hit Dice: 1d4
Attacks: 1 weapon or bite
Damage: Bite 1d3 or as weapon -1
Save: 0 level human
Morale: -2
Treasure Type: E (per mob)
XP: 5

Scurrylings are excellent climbers who can move across sheer surfaces as swiftly as across ground. They commonly ambush their foes from above. Smaller and less intelligent than other breeds of vermen, scurrylings are the lowest rung of vermen society, often enslaved and exploited by gnawers, 'possum brutes and other, larger sorts of vermen.


% in Lair: 35%
Dungeon Enc: 2d6 gang; 1 mob (lair)
Wilderness Enc: Mob (1d12 gangs); Warren (1d10 mobs)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 60' (20'')
Armor Class: 2
Hit Dice: 1d8-1 (or 1d6 if the Judge prefers)
Attacks: 1 weapon or bite
Damage: Bite 1d4 or as weapon
Save: 0 level human
Morale: -1
Treasure Type: E (per mob)
XP: 5

Larger than scurrylings but smaller than dwarves, gnawers are the most populous vermen breed. Gnawers worship cthonic powers of Chaos and are often led by warped and mutated chiefs and shamans who the gnawers see as "blessed" by these Chaos Lords.

The Herd

Within the Lichway, the only beastmen of the Herd to be encountered are the so-called goatmen. The Herd is a sort of metaphysical hive mind, a collective subconscious that drives otherwise chaotic beastmen into a semblance of order. Due to the Herd, hierarchies and chains of command are established that make the beastmen of the Herd far more dangerous than other breeds of beastmen for one simple fact: they are organized.


% in Lair: 25%
Dungeon Enc: 1d12 gang; 1 mob (lair)
Wilderness Enc: Mob (1d6 gangs); Herd (1d10 mobs)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 60' (20')
Armor Class: 3
Hit Dice: 1d8+1
Attacks: 1 weapon or gore
Damage: Gore 1d6 or as weapon
Save: F1
Morale: +1
Treasure Type: E (per mob)
XP: 15

Friday, August 9, 2013

Month In Gaming: July

Yep, I know it's August. And fairly well into August by the time I post this. However, I've been making myself talk about the gaming I've been doing every month so far this year, so here's the July details.

No New Games Played

Yup, I didn't play anything new at all. I had the opportunity to when I went to MichiCon (sort of; I'd have had to be there longer than I was to get more gaming in), but I didn't take it. I'm sure I was invited to new and interesting games on G+ that I didn't partake in. (I'm also sure I was invited to uninteresting ones, but that's neither here nor there.) At this point, I didn't really feel like playing in anything new, either, but a lot of that has to do with June's revelation that I am happier DMing than playing, which makes playing in too many different systems fairly impossible: if I don't run it, I don't play it. For right now, at least, but I'm sure that's subject to change.

Iron Coast

The Iron Coast ACKS campaign has been chugging along when we get to play, which isn't as often as I'd like. If only the Tap Room would get rid of its trivia night, then I could take over the bar for the game and things could be dependable. So, Ypsilanti-based citizens of Kickassistan, let's get that accomplished, shall we? I promise that if the Tap Room decides to kill its trivia night (they have a serious douchebag doing the trivia, so it's not much of a loss), I will host a game there (nearly) every Sunday night for two months and try to get others to host stuff there, too. So, let's sabotage some trivia!

Moving right along, the Iron Coast campaign has been picking up in fun-factor lately. We've had a rotating cast of characters, which works surprisingly well in dungeons when the players establish a "base camp" of sorts. Thankfully, the Licheway has a natural base camp in the subterranean docks found there; so far, absent players' characters have guarded the party's boat, kept salvaged treasures safe and even tended to rescued NPCs' wounds. We managed two sessions in July (well, the last one was in August, but who's counting?), and a few PCs have now leveled up (+Paul Linkowski's thief might be rounding 3rd if carousing goes well for him). The team got a little distracted from their goal by a dungeon boss, but now with that boss defeated, they can move on to their original goal in the Licheway: finding the long last treasure of the sandlanders. I'll talk some more about this later on, after the party has finished off the dungeon, because the way the Sorceress was implemented in the Licheway is really damn smart the more I think about it. So, yeah, some folks are level 2 now and the whole group is looking to blow massive amounts of treasure in Port Scourge.

Other Stuff I'm Working On

Add robots and laser bears for an ideal campaign
In the Shadow of the Black Giant still hasn't happened yet, which kind of bums me out. Some few things have conspired against me running it (primarily folks not being available), so that's been rough. My Swords & Wizardry Ur-Hadad game has been doing well, and the players are rounding third on the plot that they largely inspired. This game is mostly improvisational and focused on the narrative, so it might be better served by a system like Dungeon World (maybe not, I don't know), but S&W has been working really well, especially when I remember that swinginess is for dice rolls, not ability score bonuses. When I start looking closely at the nuts & bolts of S&W, I feel myself wanting something even simpler and so... I'm afraid I'm about to start hacking S&W Core into something very specific.

DCC hasn't been getting a lot of love around here, but a lot of that is because I'm working on a super-secret project that +Edgar Johnson and I will be announcing soon (I'm thinking after Gen Con, what do you think, Edgar?). I've been feeling the pull back to DCC from the lure of other games, particularly since it hits my "this is how things should be" buttons terribly well. For such a simple system (which, say what you will about the kickass tables, is exactly what DCC is), it feels like there's always something new to learn about or to figure out how to do using the systems as-written. I know I might be preaching to the choir a bit here, but I feel like the DCC community has only begun to scratch the surface of what DCC can (and even should) be used to do. Things like +Daniel Bishop & +Purple Duck Games's Campaign Elements series have demonstrated that Dungeon Crawl Classics isn't just for dungeons anymore and that DCC is a wider aesthetic than we've seen thus far. Really, it's quite inspiring.

A Brief Editorial

Lenny Bruce once said "No artform ever attracts an opposite." It might not surprise anyone out there that a guy who spent so much of his career offending people understood that if people weren't interested in what he was doing, no one would come out to see him and that the people who were offended and walked out of his shows weren't going to come around and decide they liked what he was doing. It really shouldn't surprise any Dispatches readers that this same sort of logic applies to games. There's nothing wrong with offending people, even deliberately. As +James Desborough pointed out in a recent article, offense is the price we pay for freedom of speech. Even in games. I don't think there's a gamer out there who thinks that more choice in games is a bad thing, and if some of those games offend you as a reader, as a gamer, remember what Uncle Lenny said: "No artform ever attracts an opposite." It's okay that you don't like it. It's also okay that other people do. Settle the fuck down.

I remember living through the Satanic Panic of the 80's & 90's and how much damage kowtowing to the "moral majority" did to the gaming industry in terms of the breadth of content available. I'm sure that most of you out there in Kickassistan remember it as well. If we allow the same sort of morality police-style censorship to invade the hobby again -- even if it comes from within the hobby itself -- we'll all be the poorer for it. Keep the games industry weird, people, keep it strange. The cornerstone of our hobby is imagination and it feels to me like if you're the sort of person who has to tell other people how to use theirs, you're missing the point of having one yourself.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

New Blog Art!

Ladies and gents, I'm very proud to finally show off the fantastic art that +Wayne Snyder drew for the old blog here. Wayne did an amazing job capturing what I feel the aesthetic of Ur-Hadad and Kickassistan in general is: a techno-wizard with a laser lance riding a multi-armed, uzi-toting transdimensional wyrm fights off an invasion of Mi-Go, the fungi from Yuggoth. All set in Ur-Hadad, of course. I've been really lucky to have Wayne as a player in the world of Ore from moment one and he's not merely a great artist but also an amazing collaborator full of awesome, crazy and crazy awesome.

In Kickass Red
In Module Blue; This is the version going on t-shirts!

While we're at it, here's the Dispatches From Kickassistan buttons that we're making. Long-time followers of the antics of the Order of the Purple Tentacle should get the joke. (Again, art by the fantastic Mr. Wayne Snyder.) 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Iron Coast: Port Scourge

However unlikely it may seem that a pirate fort might grow into a fairly large city, rivaling the largest ports of Siccalia, that is precisely what has happened in Port Scourge. A defensible cove in the sea cliffs that surround her marked the land that became Port Scourge as a haven for pirates who first preyed off of traffic from grand Av Arat to the mainland (primarily Tenghwa vessels and merchantmen from the Orphan Baronies), where a rough (in all senses of the word) town sprang up to reprovision and provide services for the various pirate crews plying the Iron Coast. Just when the Av Arati navy seemed poised to strike a death blow against the burgeoning pirate state the Av Arati disparagingly named "Port Scourge," an invasion of the northmen who would found the nation of Iskurland cut the Arati off from their Tenghwa and Orphan allies, leaving the Arati Admiral (the legendary and lamented Admiral Alugham bar Wazi, regarded today as a sort of patron saint of lost causes throughout the Iron Coast) to face the most vicious pirate captains the Coast had to offer, alone. In the massacre that followed, the naval might of Av Arat was crushed, the Tenghwa nation was pushed inland (and into contact with the Oroztalani natives) and the Jarldom of Iskurland was founded. Faced with raiding on two fronts without support from a now nonexistent Arati navy, the Orphan Baronies faced extinction, but cunningly avoided it by striking deals with the various pirate captains of Port Scourge, turning each against the other for the promise of a cut of mercantile profits from unmolested ventures. Today, a state of managed hostility exists between the various pirate crews that call Port Scourge home; the edicts of the greatest captains keep a vague sort of peace in the streets of the city, while a fierce competition for marks at sea and shipping contracts from the Orphan Baronies have drive a bullish, booming economy that revolves around the sea and blackest hearts that sail her.


Because they're useful in ACKS. Port Scourge is a City with a population of 4,612 families (around 20,060 people) with a Class III Market. I don't have market modifiers yet because every time I sit down with a spreadsheet to figure them out, my brain explodes.


There is little that could qualify as true "governance" in Port Scourge. Aside from a mutual agreement between crews of the various pirate (and some few legitimate) ships that call the port home to abide by a modicum of civility in port, each neighborhood takes it upon itself to set up its own authorities and laws, and must find its own method of enforcement. The haphazard nature of Port Scourge's construction assists in this matter, however, since as a fort town, each addition to the city was accompanied by a wall enclosing the new addition. Within any one set of walls, a fierce sense of self-determination and intra-municipal competition causes each of the city's districts and neighborhoods to seek its own identity and character. Locals often look to a particular district elder or even a pirate captain as the de facto leader of their particular district and, indeed, if any authority is recognized from one district to another, it is that of the greatest of captains, the more fearsome in infamy, the greater in regard.


Port Scourge has a surprisingly efficient, diversified and robust economy. The influx of agricultural products from the Orphan Baronies means that efficient means of storing and transporting goods to foreign markets are in sharp demand, as are the dockworkers, provisioners and shipwrights necessary to keep a mercantile fleet afloat. The less-than-reputable trade of the pirate contingent of the city fills her with exotic goods, valuable treasures and other spoils of war while requiring fuel similar to that of the mercantile fleet along with the endeavors of skilled weaponsmiths and armorers. The craftsmen of Port Scourge are in the enviable position of having wares from around the world to learn technique from (counterfeiting of goods and treasures being so common in Port Scourge that, in Av Arat, a "Scourge Reign" is common slang for counterfeit coinage that has spread to any craft), learning to manufacture home-spun versions of foreign goods through their own ingenuity and know-how.


The internal politics of Port Scourge are remarkably simple, being primarily a matter of different pirate captains and self-proclaimed admirals jockeying for positions of influence and power with one another, but these games of brinksmanship have little overall effect or longevity. Within the Iron Coast itself, Port Scourge does little to improve its image to the nations of the Coast, relying on international rivalries to distract the Siccalians, Iskurlanders and Arati from the Port's trespasses. Port Scourge has a half-hearted alliance with the Orphan Baronies, but these relationships are more between individual captains and the local barons, and not strong official bonds. The pirates of Port Scourge join the rest of the Iron Coast in uniform condemnation of the Oroztalan, but from a perspective of the danger that the Oroztalani pose to the rest of the Coastal nations, rather from a misconception of the Oroztalani as being savages, as they are seen in Siccalia and Av Arat. Port Scourge maintains ties to several tribes of the Kaasataha natives, who often join pirate crews and offer shelter to pirates in the interior of the Coast. Port Scourge sees its chief rival as the nation of Iskurland, both of whom see themselves as wolves of the sea.


Many faiths have been imported to Port Scourge from the Orphan Baronies, the Kaasataha, Tengh, the Iskurlandik, Siccalia, the strange faiths of Ur Hadad and Av Arat and even the dark blasphemies worshiped in Oroztalan. The heretical rites of the Chaos Lords are practiced openly here, alongside the peaceful and proper rites of Odosk the Pastor, the ecumenical money-changing of the Givers and the nameless observances those who worship the Great Old Ones. Far from a bastion of religious tolerance, however, Port Scourge is given to periodic religious strife, riots and pogroms as the adherents of contradictory or conflicting cults bring their bizarre tenets to a very violent conclusion. Every district features at least one shrine or chapel to one or many gods, philosophies or belief structures. A wise priest knows that ready converts may be found in Port Scourge, but that such a flock must be carefully tended, lest some other proselytizer wrangle them out from beneath his edicts.


Just as Port Scourge is a haven for misfit religions, she is also a safe haven for practitioners of all arcane arts, particularly those for which men in other lands would be hanged, beheaded or burned alive. Disgraced academic mages from Av Arat and Siccalia rub elbows with Kaasataha medicine men, Iskurlandik spirit-callers, Tenghwa necromancers and Tsohart warlocks. Black magics are easier to come by in the pirate port, and every neighborhood has at least one resident who sells hexes and maledictions and at least one other who sells charms and blessings to ward against them. Arcanists find their skills in high demand by the crews and captains of the pirate vessels who ply the Iron Coast, but woe betide the mage whose magics fail to live up to the expectations of those miscreants. In the small neighborhood (not nearly a district) known as Chandler's Lane, witches and sorcerers keep company in no small number, forming an impromptu guild of arcane practitioners by proximity alone; the alley (not a lane as the name suggests) is a tightly-knit warren of sancta and studies where mages may trade blasphemous sorceries and unspeakable incantations as their neighbors may trade other commodities. Anyone, mage or no, chased into Chandler's Lane is given up for lost by their pursuers, due to the unfriendly attitude that the locals take to disturbances.