Friday, March 29, 2013

Tell Ya What I'm Gonna Do

There's a little appreciation day coming up, focused on Swords & Wizardry. I've decided to participate in it.

Now, I've been quiet for the last week for a really good reason: my local cable company is making the first two seasons of Game of Thrones available for free for the week, so I've been (re-)watching like heck, and not doing a whole lot else.

I haven't finished any, but I've given some thought and a bit of writing to the next couple of Obscure Games entries.

I hope that you are doing well.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Goth of the Week

Demi Doom

This is the last time that Goth of the Week will be regularly published here. I may occasionally do this in the future, but I won't hunt for photos and schedule posts on a regular basis anymore.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Turning The Gatekeeper Test Back On

I'm getting tired of dealing with spam comments. Captchas back on. I apologize to everyone.

Do spammers actually think that anyone is going to respond? Don't answer that, I know the rationale. It's just annoyed me too much today.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Goth of the Week

Luka, from Croatia. Deathrock styles are awesome, and show the connection between goth and punk more clearly.

Oh, and yesterday (the 14th) was my birthday. I'm older.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Brass six-sider prototypes! The actual
dice will be laser-etched, they say.
A couple of people have mentioned it, and I want to add my voice because it looks pretty nifty, and I like nifty things. There's this Kickstarter which is set up to manufacture a bunch of metal dice, precision engineered. I mean, who wouldn't want steel dice? Or frickin' magnesium dice! I mean, that is pretty damned spiffy. The people who play Victorian adventure games that don't want brass dice? I don't want to meet anyone that lame. You can get them by the set of seven (d4, d6, d8, d10, d10 tens digit, d12, d20), by sets of d6, or by sets of d10. The aluminum dice are the least expensive, at $70 for a set of seven, but they go down to $40 for a set of 6d6 in aluminum (or even less for a single d20 in any of a variety of metals, if you get in pretty soon).

Think about having a set of titanium dice. Those would last for-frickin'-ever. Of course, they'd also run a chunk of change ($160), but they're precision machined and you'd never need to buy them again.

So, they're like Zocchi dice, but without the flash and they're made of metal so they'll never chip or crack (and no bubbles inside to throw them off). Stainless steel dice, copper dice, bronze, brass, magnesium, aluminum, titanium. Man, I wish I were rich, so I could get those titanium dice. Those would be sweet. I'll probably get the brass six-siders, for use with Space 1889.

\m/ METAL! \m/

Monday, March 11, 2013

Character Occupations

People throughout the land have to make money somehow.

One of the things that I think about is what the player might want to do in the game, and how to accommodate those desires. Most games provide a system for fighting, so that's easily covered, but the reasons for fighting aren't usually discussed. Of course, the main reason is usually money, either directly or indirectly. However, the way that the character intends to make that money is highly variable. We can call these different ways of making a living "occupations", and there are only a finite number of them. They are also not the same thing as "character classes" or "archetypes" or other ways of designing a character's abilities. Anyone with any set of abilities can engage in any particular occupation, though perhaps some ability sets are more suited to particular occupations than others. Occupations, as I see them, are more like the basic assumptions of a game, and the more that are available in the game, the wider the opportunities the players will have. Here are the ones I can think of offhand that have adventuring possibilities, and what game systems need to be in place to make them viable.

Baron - this is a general term for those characters who are in charge of administrating a domain. However, see Homesteader. Needs a system of domain administration and probably a mass combat system.

Bounty Hunter - characters that take money to find and bring back other characters, whether dead or alive depends on the contract. Needs a system of investigation in order to find the target characters.

Cunning Person/Alchemist - characters that make magic items, such as potions or charms. Needs a system of magic item creation. See also Priest/Magician.

Explorer/Ruin Robber - the prototypical adventuring occupation. Needs a way to explore ruins or wildernesses. Traditionally, this is by hidden map.

Homesteader - characters who travel to uninhabited (or at least unclaimed by any civilized people) area and plant a homestead or colony. This usually leads to becoming a Baron. In addition to the requirements for a Baron, also needs a system of building up an area with buildings and other infrastructure and for discovering what forces might try to destroy, raid, or conquer the homestead. Those elements might also be useful for a Baron, but are not necessarily essential.

Mercenary/Guard - characters who go where they are told and perform violence when needed. Can't think of any special requirements.

Merchant/Pirate/Bandit - in this occupation, characters buy low and sell high. If they're lucky. Needs a system for generating and pricing trade goods. ACKS does this really well. Pirates and Bandits are just like Merchants, but they are willing to incorporate violence into their process of buying low (and sometimes of selling high).

Priest/Magician - providing spiritual or magical services to other characters. The exact nature of these services depends on the particular game system and setting. Frequently this includes varieties of healing or attending to matters of a character's spiritual state (aka "piety"), or otherwise assisting an individual or community. This occupation also includes character magicians who cast spells for money, as well as both mendicant and temple/professional priests.

Spy/Assassin/Thief/Ambassador - a variety of related occupations that involve deception and deceit in various ways. Requires a system to allow various types of deception, such as disguise, lying, stealthy movement, and so on. Oh, and poisons.

What other player occupations might there be?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Kill Your Television

And your movies and books, while you're at it. Roleplaying games might take inspiration and worldbuilding cues from movies, TV shows, and books, but it should not attempt to slavishly simulate them. This is because roleplaying is an entirely different medium, even though it looks slightly similar.

This came up in a search for "boring
(A quick warning: this is all going to be boring theory. Feel free to skip this one.)

In a traditional fiction, the narrative is linear - this is true even when the story is told in "cut-up" order, or flashbacks, or whatever. The few exceptions (Naked Lunch) simply prove the rule. A traditional fiction is told from beginning to end, even though that beginning and that end and the parts in between might not be chronologically sequential. That is, you read the book, watch the movie/TV show, examine the comic from the starting point, following along through the medium as it leads you, then finish when it no longer continues.

There is a sole exception to this, and that is the genre of "choosable path fiction", such as the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. But, you see, now we have entered the realm of those things that are traditionally called "roleplaying games". These are fictions which interact with the audience in meaningful ways, in which the audience makes a choice that is then reflected in the continuation of the narrative. Some Computer Role Playing Games (CRPGs) such as Fable and Darklands fit this criteria, though many seem to have no meaningful choices, only scenes where the player fights, then is moved on by the linear narrative scenes into the next fight.

So we have the situation where a character in a linear narrative has to have certain events occur (and others not occur) in order for the ending scene to occur as necessary to the satisfactory resolution of the narrative. This means that the character will exhibit strange distortions of statistical likelihood. He will not be hit by any bullets that could kill him, she won't fall off the cliff as she climbs up the side, he will always find the critical clue that finalizes the villain's guilt, she will be able to dig herself out of the grave in which she's been buried alive. These happen in traditional fiction because they have to happen in order for the final resolution to occur.

In a roleplaying game, this sort of "lust for result" is not inherent to the form. A roleplaying game doesn't have a predetermined character who will achieve a predetermined outcome (rescuing the princess, killing Bill, whatever). Instead, a roleplaying game is more like a puzzle, in which there is a situation that exists (and it may be a situation that changes in response to player actions or a timetable), and it is up to the players to "solve" that puzzle in such a manner as fits their own conception of success.

Some games, though, have given players a resource (points, a special character talent, or some other metagame method) which allows them to modify the character's world in ways that simulate the distortions of statistical likelihood inherent in a linear fiction. When I was younger, I grudgingly accepted this as a way to "simulate" (as I thought) such linear fictions. I called this "cinematic play" at the time. I have since come to dislike the idea, and prefer to consider "cinematic" as a general descriptor of particular physical assumptions that vary somewhat from those in the real world.

A roleplaying game should avoid lust for result. That is, it should not start with a conception of how it will end. The ending (such as it is) of a roleplaying game should develop from the imperfectly-understood choices of the players in relation to the scenario and the rulings and play of the Referee. And even that is a bad way to formulate the situation, because unlike a linear fiction, a roleplaying game does not (have to) have a defined ending at all. A long campaign, if it ends at all without the deaths of the people playing it, is more likely to just peter out. If it bears any resemblance to a linear fiction in this way, it would be to an ongoing series, such as comic books or some types of adventure novel series (The Destroyer, Perry Rhodan, whatever).

In avoiding lust for result, Referees are freed of the temptation to control the players' characters. They are freed of the need to alter dice rolls. They are freed of their quantum ogres. This allows everyone, even the Referee, to be surprised by events in the game, to experience the fiction entirely new, because the fiction didn't come into existence until the communication of the players (including the Referee) and the universe's weighted random number generator as revealed in the dice and the game's rules.

(OK, yeah, I realize that all of this is old hat, but I'm starting to see that people new-come to the ideas in "old-school" style gaming are not really understanding what's going on, so I thought it would be worthwhile to make a new formulation of the concepts.)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Goth of the Week

I do not know who the model is, but I found this here.

Edit to add: The model is Corinna Cassani. Thank you to Mild Colonial Boy, Esq. for finding it!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Gameable Fiction

I've been spending most of my reading time these days with George R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" series. I was introduced to the setting through the excellent HBO adaptation, but quickly decided to read the books as I was sure that there was deeper content, and more of it. I was not disappointed.

Of course, we all know that the series has been adapted as a roleplaying game (though to be sure, I don't know very much about the game and how well it adapts the material; it seems to me that HârnMaster would go a long way toward developing the feel of the setting, with some work adapting the terrible and exotic magics of Martin's fantasy). There are a few other literary settings that have been adapted by specific roleplaying games: Tolkien's Middle-Earth, Vance's Dying Earth, Moorcock's Melnibone and some other Eternal Champion material, Lovecraft's Cthulhu stories, Niven's Known Space, Fleming's James Bond (though perhaps that was more an adaptation of the movies), Constantine's Wraeththu, Herbert's Dune (twice, though only once officially), Butcher's Dresden Files, Zelazny's Amber, along with a very few others. This doesn't include those settings that were mere supplements for other games, such as Thieves' World, Wild Cards, or Adams's Horseclans. There are even a few, such as Howard's Conan, that have been adapted more than once. In addition to those, there are some movie and television settings that have seen adaptations, like Star Wars (three times so far!), Star Trek (more than three times, depending on how you count it!), Firefly, Babylon 5, and so on.

However, there are some settings of fiction that have not been adapted to roleplaying games, and I am not sure why that is. Eddings's Belgariad, Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen, Butcher's Codex Alera, Burroughs's Barsoom (well, it sort of has, but not really), Lee's Flat Earth or Birthgrave, Donaldson's Thomas Covenant, Brooks's Shannara, and so on. Some of them, I can understand if the rights have issues or are otherwise difficult to secure, but the popularity of such as Malazan or Shannara would seem to have caused someone to go through the effort.

What settings do you most want to see turned into freestanding roleplaying games? Which would be better off as a supplement for an existing game like D&D/Pathfinder, GURPS, BRP, or whatever?