Saturday, April 26, 2014

Growing Up and Changing the Way I Game

I am experiencing a thing.  I think maybe I'm playing RPGs like the boy I was, instead of like the man I am.  I don't know what to do about it.  I recognize at the moment that I am wistfully scribbling and toying with some ideas that appeal to me almost solely out of a misbegotten nostalgia for something that's dead and done. Dead and done back in like 1987 and then drawn out like weak butter into 1995.  I'm doing something because (at the moment) it's a framework for tension release and learning and vapid creativity, and I care about it because it's something I wish I could have done when I was like 12 or so...  It's ridiculous - I throw in references to old TV shows and games I played or wished I'd played.  Things I think you'll get, or hope you will, whoever you are, reader who probably already thinks a lot like I think.

But the next things I write and do and play (after I'm done with this one thing at the moment), if they are to be meaningful, they are going to require some introspection and growth and the unlocking of something else. To do that I need to unfetter my brain with the zip-ties of the 1980s and let my inner child and my current me cooperate instead of using my 12 year old self as a way to get out of the reality I'm in...  Things I kind of address in my humdrum non-Wizard/non-Knight existence, but don't make a good deal of headway are:

  • Inequality.  The vast gap between me and my wife and kid and Sam Walton.
  • What my kid's world is going to look like when she is having kids, or whatever it is she's doing then
  • The struggle of the working class and the impoverished.  Do you realize that adventurers are the worst sort of untrained underclass, doing the King's dirty work for him, and finding wealth and redistributing it in the most crude and stupid fashion?  Don't roll your eyes at me, manthing
  • Environmental degradation
  • Poverty.  All you have to do to experience the LLC existence that is the funnel is roll a couple of the old fashioned way.  Man, rag-picking and rat-catching are shit jobs.  Of course you would want to die on the end of a Goblin's badly made hammer.  If that's not an analogy for the middle class being destroyed by cheap 3rd world labor then I don't know what it is.
  • Mental health, the medicalization of crime, the criminalization of poverty
  • Injustice.  They just let a guy out of death row in Japan after 45 years.  Stories like that all the MF time.
  • Censorship of ideas and voices.  Criminalization of those who infringe upon corporate "rights"  (Aaron Schwartz!)
  • Groupthink.  I watch this shit happen every day.  It's awful.  When you point out it's happening, the hivemind turns on you.  Nobody wants to hear that shit, man.  Trust me.  Doesn't mean you oughtn't say it if you see it.
  • The militarization of the police.  Drones, swat tanks, genetic testing of random people at impromptu stops.  I pulled up on a sobriety check point at 7:55 this evening.  I think every squad car in the county was there.  Dogs, Blues and Reds, big burly guys and gals in fluorescent vests.  I had nothing to fear - stone cold sober and a law abiding citizen but I still felt a little uneasy.  I think they are probably trying to intercept the drug deals going down in the parking lot of the local grocery store, but, I mean is a little pot worth all this effort?  I don't know.  God Bless the Police and those who keep us safe and whatnot.
  • the use of debt to quell unrest.  The elimination of (at least in the US) of education as a means to rise in the ranks of society.  I can't take a stand!  They got me for a house-worth of money and no way to pay it back, ever!
  • corruption of our public offices.  This fucking guy Yee.  I mean, come on.  He's a gun dealer; he's simultaneously pushing for gun reforms and restriction. When I say "gun dealer" I don't mean the good honest kind; I mean the kind that sells guns to bad guys.  He's in the pocket of mobsters.  Actually, I trust mobsters more than corporations.  You could technically shoot a mobster or lock him up whereas that's not possible with a corporation. 
  • the drain of our commonwealth by corporations and banks.  The death of capitalism is going to be when all the public funds are dumped into 401Ks and shit and then the fuckers just raid them to line their own pockets.  It's already happened!  Where did all the money go for infrastructure?  It's all been sucked up my hedge fund managers!
  • The gradual ridiculous reduction in public fora as media for discourse and reasonable reflection of ideas and discussion.  A guy said the other day he didn't like politics stuff showing up in his feed owing to all the bad vibes that came with it.  But why?  How did we get taught within the past 25 years of internetting that discussion and even argument is negative, or that it equals animosity?  For some people, it does, sure - those people are welcome to bark from the sidelines but I hope if you don't agree with something you see here that fuck it, you'll at least think about it and stick around for the value of the ideas and their presentation if nothing else.
Up 'til now I've been thinking of RPGs as a way to escape my dreary worldview but if any of it will have any value to me going forward, it will only come with serious examination of the way I think a  number of things and hashing out the details.  If I keep seeing RPGs as an escape from the world, then I'm doing it like a child would do it.  RPGs and the OSR are as valid a way to express ideas as any other, if the issues are approached correctly.  I'm going to figure out how and maybe put out some OSR scenarios 

If you don't dig the politics then I hope at least the stuff will be playable and usable in games.

Let me know if I'm way off base.

NOW - back to the home stretch of my solo DCC module project

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Land Beyond the Forests - Actual Folklore for use in Games

The Strigoi, the Nosferatu, and the Prikolitsch Also, the Scholomance  From The Land Beyond The Forest by Emily Gerard, Harper Brothers (1888)

I don’t know why, but I saw mention of this last week and it rang a bell in me.  Not because I am not familiar with the whole domain of TRANSYLVANIAN MONSTERS from 140 years of seeing the traditions permuted through an Anglicized lens onto a movie screen, but because I was reading about the RuneQuest demons The Porphyr who are essentially vampires with blue skin and fancy claws.  Anyway, the work I quote here was said to have heavily influenced Bram Stoker and his Dracula.  These quotes have useful information and so I throw them out for consideration for gaming material.  I think it's interesting to think about what the actual historical folklore was, where it came from, who was recording it, and what's happened to the meanings and forms since then.  This particular book was likely well-read by many of the seminal authors of the horror and fantasy genre, and it's chock full of traditional tropes to work on and think about.

Check this out:

The mourning songs, called bocete, usually performed by paid mourners, are directly addressed to the corpse, and sung into his ear on either side. This is the last attempt made by the survivors to wake the dead man to life by reminding him of all he is leaving, and urging him to make a final effort to arouse his dormant faculties—the thought which underlies these proceedings being that the dead man hears and sees all that goes on around him, and that it only requires the determined effort of a strong will in order to restore elasticity to the stiffened limbs, and cause the torpid blood to flow anew in the veins.  (emphasis mine) (p. 181)

(That’s right – in Transylvania, death is merely for the weak of will.  Hang on to that thought)

In the case of a man who has died a violent death, or in general of all such as have expired without a light, none of these ceremonies take place. Such a man has neither right to bocete (my note: lamentations), privegghia (my note: a vigil), mass, or pomeana (my note: a wake), nor is his body laid in consecrated ground. He is buried wherever the body may be found, on the bleak hill-side or in the heart of the forest where he met his death, his last resting-place only marked by a heap of dry branches, to which each passer-by is expected to add by throwing a handful of twigs—usually a thorny branch—on the spot. This handful of thorns - or mana de spini, as the Roumanian calls it—being the only mark of attention to which the deceased can lay claim, therefore to the mind of this people no thought is so dreadful as that of dying deprived of light. (pp. 184-185)

(Perhaps this is where the idea comes from that Vampires are destroyed by sunlight)

This restlessness on the part of the defunct may either be caused by his having concealed treasures during his lifetime, in which case he is doomed to haunt the place where he has hidden his riches until they are discovered ; or else he may have died with some secret sin on his conscience—such, for instance, as having removed the boundary stone from a neighbor's field in order to enlarge his own. He will then probably be compelled to pilger about with a sack of the stolen earth on his back until he has succeeded in selling the whole of it to the people he meets in his nightly wanderings. These restless spirits, called strigoi, are not malicious, but their appearance bodes no good, and may be regarded as omens of sickness or misfortune. (p. 185)

(Strigoi are dead murderhobos who never fenced their ill-gotten treasures in life)

More decidedly evil is the nosferatu, or vampire, in which every Roumanian peasant believes as firmly as he does in heaven or hell. There are two sorts of vampires, living and dead. The living vampire is generally the illegitimate offspring of two illegitimate persons ; but even a flawless pedigree will not insure any one against the intrusion of a vampire into their family vault, since every person killed by a nosferatu becomes likewise a vampire after death, and will continue to suck the blood of other innocent persons till the spirit has been exorcised by opening the grave of the suspected person, and either driving a stake through the corpse, or else firing a pistol-shot into the coffin. To walk smoking round the grave on each anniversary of the death is also supposed to be effective in confining the vampire. In very obstinate cases of vampirism it is recommended to cut off the head, and replace it in the coffin with the mouth filled with garlic, or to extract the heart and burn it, strewing its ashes over the grave. (p. 185)

(Twice illegitimate!  Note – you can shoot a vampire to death in the coffin as well as stake him or her.)

First-cousin to the vampire, the long-exploded were-wolf of the Germans, is here to be found lingering under the name of prikolitsch. Sometimes it is a dog instead of a wolf whose form a man has taken, or been compelled to take, as penance for his sins. In one village a story is still told - and believed—of such a man, who, driving home one Sunday with his wife, suddenly felt that the time for his transformation had come. He therefore gave over the reins to her and stepped aside into the bushes, where, murmuring the mystic formula, he turned three somersaults over a ditch. (p. 186)

(Mystic formula!)

As I am on the subject of thunder-storms, I may as well here mention the scholomance, or school, supposed to exist somewhere in the heart of the mountains, and where the secrets of nature, the language of animals, and all magic spells are taught by the devil in person. Only ten scholars are admitted at a time, and when the course of learning has expired, and nine of them are released to return to their homes, the tenth scholar is detained by the devil as payment, and, mounted upon an ismeju, or dragon, becomes henceforward the devil's aide-de-camp, and assists him in "making the weather"—that is, preparing the thunder-bolts. (p. 198)

 (You could be part of the nine, or that last one.  I wonder if it’s the best of the 10 or the worst?  Also, ISMEJU is my new favorite word)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Wherefore the Dungeon?

I grapple with this.

I mean, if we're going to grow as a thing, then maybe in the 40 years since its inception, we no longer need the first half nor second of the D's.  Dragons?  Pshaw.  In my humble opinion, the Freudian and Jungian power of the Dragon is much reduced, of late.  You can get them at Best Buy and rent them for 2 dollars from the local video vending machine.  A dungeon, a good dungeon, on the other hand, has power and draw and smoldering je ne sais quois that well, words fail.  I haven't got adequate words.

I mean, why, of all things, a dungeon?  What makes a group of fellows in Wisconsin in the mid-60's and early-70's, interested in Napoleon and D-Day and all that fancy ass war-games stuff, what makes them horny for dungeons and dragons, of all freaking things?  I had an argument with an OSR luminary once about Gary being an accountant, or an actuary's son or something, and that was why all the random tables and charts and statistics.  They are like actuary porn, IMHO.

The Dungeon, though, the Dungeon is something else.  A friend and I had a conversation about how come agency is important.  I invite you to admire an argument from +Daniel Bishop about how story and agency and the dice coalesce into a thing that is not a guy telling some other guys about how they are characters in a story he wrote.  You can get that in this field of phun - you get a guy with a story he wrote and some fellows (lads and lasses - the Greek admits of both genders) show up all ready to impose their wills upon a fantasy, and then everyone gets swept up in a story that somebody (the DM/Judge/Keeper/Head Trog) wrote.  He has a plan, and his story goes like this, and the story does not admit of your care-free whimsy and clever thinking.  It unfolds in the way he (usually a he, although I have met and played under some rail-roady women Keepers) has already determined and the PCs are merely set dressing.

I find this is a problem with a good number of modules, even some of my favorite 1st edition favorites (e.g. The Oasis of the White Palm).  There are only a set number of paths to the Big Bad, and the puzzles ought to be done and done and done just so and then BOOM access to the big dirty shot of Bad Guy menace all over your characters' faces like OH YEAH ITS SO GOOD ALL OVER YOUR FACES

I don't know.  I feel dirty that way.  So, the Megadungeon.  The Sandbox.  To me, it's much preferr'd.  A whole expanse of world opens before your small group of misfits/heroes/mutants/freaks/what-have-yous

Which way shall you go?  There is something to be said for the delivery of the STORY in a ready-made arc like that season of Buffy or Fringe or whatever.  Then, on the other hand, there is a couple of people sitting around a table/virtual space, ready to make humor and desperation and fun heroics from whatever comes with no pre-determined goals or requirements other than whatcomes? and havefun!

I think the best games I've played and have run seem to arise like an improv session, with some informally agreed upon limits - maybe like the setting and genre conventions.  That's it.  I happened to get this a good deal with the Scourge of the Barrowmaze.  LIKE nothing seemed as important as discovery of the Horror Around The Corner and Whether We Could Survive, and what kind of hilarious shit goes down because that guy missed his die roll?  I don't care if the characters live or die, as long as it's dramatic and fun, and they don't TOTALLY CLOBBER everything that they come acrost, because (see my previous posts on desperation ad nauseam) there's no fun in WINNIN' without stress.  You need the illusion of difficulty, at least, for the money shot to count for anything.  The NPCs are as nothing, and only as scurvy or sneering or cowardly or villainous as circumstances dictate, and in whatever way allows characters to shine in the way they want.  Often, we had hilarious rip-roaring fun with the most blood-curdling murderhoboisms that one could contemplate.  The literal murder of whatever came through the fog, no matter what the end result may be.  Other times, players stepped up to the moral-compass plate and set things in the awful little universe we were creating a-right.

The megadungeon, the sandbox, the West March.  Exploration, discovery, desperation.  Home and healed just in the nick of time.  Mourn fallen comrades.  Vengeance upon enemies.  Liberally sprinkled with vanquishment of terrors and psychological empowerment and vicarious stress-relief that we all want.

I love almost all games I play lately, but when I get the signal that the thing is decided already, I almost frantically and desperately try to make the PHUNs through humor and improvisational character building, and stupid unlikely schemes.  I go out of my way to engage other players - since I DM a good deal, also, I try not to squelch the DM nor other players but if everyone is nodding and riding the railway then I crank it up to like 8 or 9 and see what comes. I think I'm a little bit of a spotlighter if there isn't one already, but if there is I try to roll with that person and help them out.  Do I actively try to derail a railroad?  I don't think so.

If I've done it to you, then I apologize.  Get thee into the DUNGEON good sir or ma'am as the case may be, where the oozing walls will rectify the broadness of our choices and the ways our characters may unfold.  The reason we restrain our views of the sky and stars is that it causes madness and ambition of the worse and baser sorts.  Beneath the ground, where we know our enemies and our places and our tasks, we are not free to choose the other ways, except that the henchies may die and DO I KEEP THIS OIL OR THROW IT UPON THESE ZOMBIES?  Life is simple and clear and right and the whole dungeon unfolds before us in endless possibility of a certain comforting kind.

I ramble.  Anyways, it seems clear to me that the tradition of the D&D sort arises from a couple of simple and common psychological needs, and that an examination of them and how they play out, and the infinite varieties available even under seriously limited circumstance are the things that drew our esteemed forebears into the crypts and passageways of yore.

I offer, as Joesky tax, some examples of what other folks have thought about the prospect of level and adventure design.

Here and Here, for starters.  This on the heels of some thinking I did about (no shit) professional wrestling, "KAYFABE", Whose Line Is It Anyway, TheaterSports, Improv Comedy, and collaborative story-gaming.  I don't think it'd be productive to argue it all out - there's nothing I can drop in the pot of soup that hasn't been said already, maybe.  Andy Kaufman said of Classy Freddie Blassie that he wasn't so much an actor as a man who absolutely and resolutely refused to believe in the world OUTSIDE of the fiction that the wrestlers-as-actors made together.  I think it shows, and I think we can learn from the notions of building "heat" and engagement in real-time with others.  If you can think of a better character than ANDY KAUFMAN WORLD CHAMPION INTERGENDER WRESTLER, then... well, good.  Play that character as best you can.

Now I'm thinking about LARPS.  I felt this way around last year at Camp Nerdly.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Dealing with Forgotten Daemons

I don't know if this is heavily protected stuff, but after somebody's posting the other day of the magnificent White Dwarf stuff for AD&D, I went on a tear and checked it out.  It's enchanting and awesome, particularly the Fiend Folio II, the gigantic listing of clever WD monsters that didn't make the cut for the original Fiend Folio.  The FF is my favorite D&D book of all time, probably more due to nostalgia than anything else, since it was the first RPG book of any kind that I ever owned.  A lot of the magic probably had to do with Russ N.'s amazing drawings (seriously, the Sons of Kyuss have damaged me in ways I cannot begin to explain not the band the monster)

This maggoty creep can find anything on the internet, or in a dungeon, or in the Palaces of Alabaster Flesh.
There is one section in there from maybe WD#45 and it's all about a bunch of whacky but sinister demons - entirely unlike the MM and the other TSR demons, generally.  Likely because they are conversions from a previously published article about RuneQuest demonology.  The more I learn of Runequest, and Questworld, the more my eye turns back to my BRP Elric and I'm interested in the other ways that RPGs might have gone if they'd been untethered from statistical analysis and wargames earlier...  Whole 'nother post, I guess.

I musta had some weird whispering coming through the warpgates, or whatever, but I tracked those RQ down, snipped 'em out, and was going to convert them to a shiny new document but it seems maybe like too much work and the illustrations are fanciful and exciting.  The first couple of pages has renderable text, so I guess you could (if you were inclined) suck the words out and make a beautiful new thing with it, but...

Edit: I withdraw this. I don't feel so great about putting the thing up even 35 years later without permission.

I particularly like the bargaining bits, and the flowchart comic for dealing with summoned demons.  The stuff is not entirely new or original, now - but it was probably pretty neat back then, and I like the variety and new/old flavours since all I usually consider are Vrocks and Malfeshnee and Rifts-type stuff and various entirely random things made with the Esoteric Creature thingamabob.  The particular fun is when you get into bonding with the Big Bads and the special powers etc.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Current Solo Module Plot Paths

This will likely mean nothing to you, unless you're interested in the way the design process is turning out for my DCC solo module.

Art is chugging along - you've seen the cover illo and a couple of my own inside monster portraits.

You saw the nodes for the random encounters of a previous iteration of the monster set (updated, I think, a couple of times since then)

I could show you the map - loosely based on a somewhat famous castle from a pretty famous movie - but I won't.  That'd spoil some stuff.  I think I will make a regular low-level DCC module out of the materials I have and release the monsters for freebies to the community (after I finish THIS project).  Maybe some of the gods and patrons, also.  I have 3 0-level spells that are good intros into working magic for untrained schmucks, at least where the ley lines intersect and the barriers between dimensions are thinning.

However, I can show you the current-a-couple-of-hours-ago node-map of the entries in which the PC runs around the keep all desperate n' stuff.  It's about maybe half finished and written, and when the last entry is done I can practically plug the text into InDesign, plug the graphical elements to fill in the gaps, twerk the layout, and submit to the authorities in this matter.  I think it will come to about 180 entries in which the player is trusted to play by the rules as well as possible.  At times, it is cruel and unforgiving and seems impossibly hard.  I don't know if that is a plus or a minus.  It seems to fit with my memories of the CYOA books and especially the Fighting Fantasy series.  I think it will make, at two or three columns with facing pages, a pretty nice and hefty module when printed in the old TSR style.  I'm trying to figure out a way to export the whole thing to kindle format but that might need to wait a while.

Here, try this:

It's not evident, but the little watermark at the bottom is for the program's author and website.  I'm not afraid to say anymore, since I am within striking distance of submitting the thing within the next month, that I'm using The Gamebook Authoring Tool by Crumbly Head Games.  For what I set out to do, it's perfect and frankly indispensable.  I may have mentioned I tried to start this project off with Twine, but it proved unsuitable for what I wanted.  There was TXT2CYOA but that wasn't right, either.

This thing is exactly what I needed and wanted and perfect in every way.  I feel like I have jilted the author so far, since I wrote about 40 or 50 entries for the Wandering Monster section.  I tried to base it loosely on the flow of the basic and expert solo modules by Merle Rasmussen, you see.  Wander around, mark the entry on the character sheet, and resolve your combat, go back, wash - rinse - repeat until dead or victorious.  I don't know how he could have done something like this project without the aid of this software or something like it - but I imagine about a million million index cards and a giant corkboard.

I'm coming up pretty quickly on the 100 entry maximum for the main keep entries so a full sale is coming for Crumbly Head Games, soon.  And they deserve it!  As I said, it's right as rain and does what it advertises smoothly and elegantly.

I'm looking at about 6 weeks out and I am happy with the way it's going at the moment.  I'll lose about a week between now and then for vacation, but we'll see.

I think I might like to get in touch with Merle and nostalgia-fanboy vomit all over him and Ian Livingstone and rejoice in the memories of hours of my whiled-away youth


Assets and Learning and Sharing Make for More Funs

1.  I'm not an artist.  I was lucky and cool-headed enough to purchase a copy of the CS4 suite back when I was in college - I justified it by saying I might make some money with photos one day.  For that 300 or 400 hundred dollar purchase, I will likely pay many thousands of dollars in interest and penalties to the student loan people, since I am dim and place too much faith in the premise of education and I sunk myself into needless debt thinking my career path would pay off in BIG MONEY

2.  I'm working out the kinks, and the little squirt of dopamine in my brain that happens when I figure shit out is way more than enough to keep me entertained, at least since I quit smoking.

3.  I like you kids out there.

4.  I want you to be happy.

5.  I was trying to figure out how to make little encounter icons for my scanned-in maps, exactly what I'm about to give out here.

6.  I figured it out.  Praise THE DARK GOD THAT LIVES IN THE WOODS BEHIND MY TRAILER for the handy dandy "hold down alt and drag to copy" thing that illustrator has

7.  This thing is for you to use, or not, if you like.  It's a .PNG file so it ought to be transparent around the bubbles so you could just copy and paste from my thing into your thing, if that kind of stuff might help you

8.  Hey, if one has riches, then what good are they if not for bringing joy to friends and loved ones?

The (to my mind gorgeous and sexy) font is IM Fell, that this amazing fellow puts out for nothing and for which you are not fit to touch the hem of his garments.  The whole package will give even your weakest and poorliest-edited documents the sexy grace of type-set musty English volume by Bishop J. Fell.  I can only grovel and aspire before the model set by Mr. Fell in his efforts to PUBLISH interesting things

But I am working on it.

Back to the presses I go

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Ichorteat Grottoe - Community Map

A simple map - I was at a staff meeting last week and bristling against paperwork and little blue squares and such.  I went out of my way to make sure the angles mostly aren't square and rectilinear.    What an ugly word.  Parallel. That's a lot of L's

I envision some Runequest-style demonologists and a cult or three for the big hopping toad idol at the top. Came back to the whole thing and inked the first layer of walls after reading some of the stuff in the unofficial Fiend Folio II that +Greg Gorgonmilk posted onto the G+ thread

Lots of traps and maybe a few secret passages.  Gateway drugs into demon-toad worship and the bodies of a few dozen innocents.  Mugwumps, doelms, and bullywugs. Flooded passages (haven't decided which they ought to be, yet)

This is the basic version but maybe I'll do up a thing like Dyson does with all the hatching.  It's soothing and a stress thing  and good for goldbricking at meetings.  Or while waiting for clients to arrive or fill out paperwork. Writing the odd dissonant hymn or dirge to a toad demon while waiting for the coffee to brew


If I had used the scanner I could have cleaned up some of the pencil lines but then I'd have had to clean the back desk off and... Well, I will work it out later.

Buy 'The Hounds' - Click Here